Balakirev; Kalinnikov First Symphonies
The release of this CD‚ timed to coincide with this year’s celebrations of the Queen’s golden jubilee‚ seems now equally to commemorate the life of the recently departed Queen Mother. That said‚ a new recording of this remarkable collection of 25 five and sixpart madrigals by 23 English composers and published in 1601 at the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I‚ is long overdue. But performances as good as this by the 10 members of I Fagiolini make it seem worth the wait.
The uptodate booklet note by John Milsom illuminates the circumstances surrounding the compilation of the collection. In particular he reminds us that‚ in spite of the requirements imposed for the poetic texts‚ and especially that they should end with the ‘Oriana’ refrain‚ the set of madrigals was not in factdedicated to the Queen but to her cousin‚ Charles Howard‚ Lord Admiral and Earl ofNottingham. Nor do they form by their context and order any kind of narrative or cycle. Indeed probably a larger collection was originally envisaged: Thomas Bateson may have missed the deadline for submitting his ‘When Oriana walked’ and had to content himself with publishing it separately in 1604. Alas‚ it is nowhere to be heard here – it seems‚ the boat once missed is gone forever.
As with many multiauthor works‚ the quality of the individual contributions inevitably varies‚ however carefully the collection was compiled. But it is extremely interesting to listen for the range of musical devices employed by a group of indigenous composers at a given moment in history in their settings of similar texts. I don’t want to spoil the game too much by reciting the differences with chapter and verse.
I would encourage listeners to return to this CD for short doses‚ in spite of the textual clarity and musical refinement of the performances and‚ of course‚ the extremely pleasant and entirely appropriate instrumental diversion provided by the lutenist David Miller in the Byrd and Holborne dances sprinkled between the madrigals. Among my favourites are George Kirbye’s ‘With Angel’s face’‚ where the fauns and satyrs seem actually to dance (you may like to compare Kirbye’s setting with the pedestrian one on the same text by Daniel Norcombe in track 24)‚ and John Farmer’s ‘Fair nymphs I heard one telling’‚ with the glorious crescendo at the end.