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GRAMOPHONE (11/2023)
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Reviewer :
 Edward Breen

Paulo Aretino (Paolo Antonio del Bivi; 1508-84) is very definitely on trend for the current Renaissance polyphony scene. A few decades ago he might have been dismissed as a minor master but today’s ensembles are curious to step away from the core, canonic Palestrina-et-al composers, and like that of his recently celebrated German contemporary Ludwig Daser, Aretino’s music is rewarding and exciting. In short, well worth the find.


The Lamentations recorded here were published in the 1540s, either side of the composer’s three-year stint as maestro di cappella at S Pietro, Faenza. Yet he spent the rest of his career in Arezzo, where his talents were much celebrated, and this album will show you why. The Lamentations are set for low voices in voci pari – equal ranges, mostly – so very much Hilliard Ensemble territory as was. Odhecaton, however, are consistently more emotive and extrovert than most British ensembles past and present, plus they have skilled low basses underpinning the whole album and resonating richly in the generous acoustic of the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio in Arezzo. For my tastes I’d prefer to hear a little more of the top line at certain points (especially when taken by countertenors), but less of one rather strident tenor.


From a compositional point of view these are not excessively exuberant or innovative Lamentations. There is a lot of monophony in Aretino’s settings, which keeps attention firmly fixed on the text, and the ensemble are strongest in such passages finding a sound that, similar to a Welsh male voice choir, comes from the heart. It’s striking to hear such passionate walls of sound in


Renaissance music, and I like it very much. Although not a complex polyphonist in these settings, Aretino does set several beautiful imitative passages which I find rather laboured here, the passage setting ‘Mem’ in the first Nocturn being an example. Overall, it’s a thoughtful and polished performance, with some of the best music inspiring the finest singing: Lectio III (Lamentations 5:1-5; track 5), ‘Incipit oratio Ieremiae prophetae’ (‘Here begins the Lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah’) marks a very successful balance of polyphonic flow and textual expression in my opinion, and it sounds superb.

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