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  42:4 (03-04 /2019)
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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal


This is an interesting collection of Marenzio’s madrigals, in large part because it demonstrates that the accepted temporal dichotomy about the composer’s music—earlier works from the first part of the 1580s, heavily contrapuntal, later works from the late 1590s, heavily lyrical—doesn’t always hold. The opening pair of madrigals, for instance, Come inanti de l’alba (First Book of Madrigals in 6 Voices, 1581) and Qual vive Salamandra (First Book of Madrigals in 5 Voices, 1580), are largely homophonic, particularly the second; while the concluding pair of works on the disc, the famous Solo e pensoso with its chromatic half steps and Crudele, acerba, inexorabil morte (both from the Ninth Book of Madrigals in 5 Voices, 1599), include a strong measure of counterpoint via augmentation and imitation to create startling pictorial effects.

For that corrective alone, this album would possess some merit. The performances by Rossoporpora, however, are excellent. Bertil van Boer wrote of their recording (with Musicali Affetti) of Biagio Marini’s Madrigali & Symphonie (Tactus 591304; Fanfare 41:5), that “the voices are clear and bright, and the tempos seem to drive the music forward, as does the unambiguous diction….” As much can be said of this release, with an added note to their ability, under Walter Testolin’s direction, to reflect the many changes of color that Marenzio applied through phrasing, counterpoint, harmonic shifts, and sudden shifts of tempo and dynamics.

I wouldn’t, though, characterize this ensemble’s approach to Marenzio’s madrigals as manneristic—a term I would apply at times to the otherwise excellent La Venexiana under Claudio Cavina’s inspired direction (Glossa 920906). Cavina’s version of Solo e pensoso, for example, changes suddenly from its dragging pace used to illustrate the opening pair of Petrarch’s lines to a sprint at the words, “et gli occhi porto per fuggire intenti” (and with my eyes I’m running away). By contrast, Rossoporpora only increases the tempo slightly, placing more faith in the composer’s abrupt switch at that point to highly imitative writing. The comparatively slower pace Testolin employs helps both clarify the textures and increase the energy, as the five voices in separate entry add better-defined density that drives the imagery home.

As for Rossoporpora (it means reddish purple; no, really), on this album it’s a seven-voice choir (two sopranos, altos, and tenors, with a bass), that has been directed since 2011 by Testolin. Fourteen of the 18 cuts include anywhere from four to six voices; two others feature transcriptions performed by a pair of lutenists, while another pair of selections include either one of the sopranos or the bass with lutenists. Engineering is well balanced throughout, save in that last couple of selections which display tonal issues due to recessing the singers from the microphones. The other cuts are recorded closely and effectively.

With such fine performances, this disc makes an excellent first exposure to Marenzio’s richly expressive art. Recommended.

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