Banchieri & Marenzio Madrigals
A boat from Venice to Padua? Yes, it does sound odd and, to recall Alice, it becomes curiouser and curiouser. The ill-assorted company of passengers includes a student, some lawyers from Murano, a fisherman from the Lagoon, a couple of girls whose profession is older than agriculture, a music-master from Lucca, and a Florentine bookseller who invites five singers on board. All the makings of a Ship of Fools if not of a Marx Brothers comedy. And so it turns out to be. The singers (four from different parts of Italy, the fifth an alcoholic German who passes round the bottle before the proceedings commence), begin with a couple of madrigals. The mood becomes infectious; the student and one of the girls produce a couple of bantering and distinctly obscene dialogues, but then everything is suddenly brought to a halt by a group of Jewish passengers who begin a prayer meeting. More madrigals and some airs are sung before the passengers disembark, where they are promptly accosted by a fraud masquerading as a soldier.
This delightful sequence of miniatures, strung together in a loose dramatic narrative in the style of the madrigal comedies of Vecchi and Striggio, is sung with great verve and style, bringing out all the humour of Banchieri's text. The music itself spans a wide range, from lighter popularesque trifles to short 'serious' madrigals deliberately parodying the styles of Gesualdo and Marenzio. The Clement Janequin Ensemble rises to the occasion superbly, matching these vignettes with appropriate vocal styles. This is not perhaps great music, but it does provide a delightfully entertaining glimpse of the Italian social world of the early seventeenth century. The Marenzio pieces, on the other hand, are a serious matter and here the group is not quite so successful. Its decision to include instrumental support to the vocal texture is certainly plausible, and it brings a rich sonority to the sound which it exploits imaginatively, particularly in Marenzio's miniature masterpiece Cruda Amarilli. But after a while the rather hard-edged sound becomes a little relentless, and there are also occasional inaccuracies of pitch and other technical awkwardnesses. But one must not grumble; there is little enough Marenzio in the catalogue, and this imaginatively arranged record will be welcomed.'