Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

This is not technically a “new” release, but its existence and reissue in 2007 on the Tallis Scholars’ Gimell label may come as something of a surprise even to fans of this eminent ensemble, known exclusively for its exemplary performances and recordings of sacred Renaissance music. Originally released as a budget LP on Classics for Pleasure in the early 1980s (shortly after the group’s acclaimed Allegri/Palestrina/Mundy recording), the program of secular madrigals was, according to director Peter Phillips, “the first and only time we ever recorded such repertoire”, and this reissue on Gimell marks its first appearance in the catalog in more than 20 years. To fill out the CD, Gimell adds seven “bonus” tracks–anthems by Thomas Tomkins originally released in 1991, including When David heard that Absalom was slain, Woe is me, and O God, the proud are risen against me, which are among the finest renditions on disc.

Among the 12 madrigals are several of the most popular and oft-recorded works–Wilbye’s Draw on sweet night, Bennet’s All creatures now, Byrd’s Though Amaryllis dance, Gibbons’ The silver swan–but the program is also graced by many lesser-known but equally fine pieces, all carefully chosen to reflect Phillips’ desire to present “the best English madrigal-writing around the year 1600.” He also wanted to find an aesthetic place between a typical madrigal-style performance featuring one voice to a part and a more choral-based style typical of sacred music. The result–which does feature a single voice on each part, recorded in an acoustic deliberately chosen for its muted resonance–is suitably intimate, ideally balanced, and very artfully sung. In fact, you won’t hear better madrigal singing anywhere, not only in terms of the precision of rhythms, clarity of articulation, or unity of ensemble, but in the expressive felicities that lend such poignancy to Tomkins’ Woe is me (heard here in both a madrigal style and as a sacred anthem), Wilbye’s Draw on sweet night, and Thomas Vautor’s strange and wonderful Cruel Madame. Whether or not you already own the Tomkins’ anthems, this set of madrigals is essential listening. [6/11/2008]

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Recording Details:


English madrigals and anthems by Weelkes, Morley, Vautor, Gibbons, Wilbye Byrd, Tomkins, Vautor, Bennet, Ramsey, & Farnaby -

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