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GRAMOPHONE (02/2017)
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Reviewer: Edward Breen

Like so many 16th-century instrumental tutors, Sylvestro Ganassi’s La Fontegara (1535) begins by stating that all musical instruments are inferior to the human voice before explaining that instruments can imitate vocal expression through varying breath-pressure and shading of tone. On this new disc of madrigals by Philippe Verdelot and contemporaries, Denis Raisin Dadre applies La Fontegara’s rules to the very repertoire that Ganassi himself practised, the madrigals of Philippe Verdelot and contemporary works.

Having established the superiority of the voice, it is fitting that soprano Clara Coutouly sings so engagingly throughout this programme. Her warm tone has a beauty and bloom that infuses even the most mournful of texts with a plethora of subtle hues. In Verdelot’s Ardenti miei sospiri, for example, she leans into those soft onomatopoeic sighs with heart-rending subtlety. Dadre’s recorder-playing steps up to this mark with great panache, displaying his impressive versatility; but, ironically, in doing so he also proves that Ganassi had a good point about voices, for what Coutouly does with tone – the darker hues in particular – she can do without affecting pitch. Again, Ardenti miei sospiri offers a useful example since pitch drifts noticeably during the first two notes of the opening recorder phrase.

But this is a disc that also champions Ganassi’s extremely virtuoso style of ornamentation, and here Dadre is a supremely impressive artist. In fact, the whole Doulce Mémoire team play with a stylish fluency that negotiates various staggeringly intricate manoeuvres with wonderful flair. I particularly enjoyed their instrumental version of Verdelot’s Igno soave which, when cross-referenced with their previous vocal performance (‘Le siècle du Titien’ – Naïve) shows what an exciting ensemble they are.

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