Il cor tristo
This disc intersperses Renaissance madrigals by Bernardo Pisano and Jacques Arcadelt with the three sections of Roger Marsh’s Il cor tristo, written in 2008. Pisano and Arcadelt set Petrarch, while Marsh sets Dante. Though he was one of the very first composers of madrigals, and the first to have a publication devoted exclusively to his work, Pisano’s works appear infrequently on concert programmes these days, probably even less than Arcadelt’s. The style of both is very sober when compared to that of later madrigalists, and dividing them into groups of three in this way avoids any impression of sameness.
It also provides an excellent ‘frame’ for Roger Marsh’s very colourful setting of Ugolino’s monologue from Canto 33 of Dante’s Inferno. This is dramatic music, closely reflecting the very long text (the composer in fact asks the listener to follow the music line by line); much of it is set as what one might describe as choral recitative, but Marsh has done this with a tremendous degree of subtlety, so that the moments spent on illustration – word-painting, in fact – are the more telling. The harmonic vocabulary is rich, while in general no more than mildly dissonant; glissandos, Sprechgesang and other effects are also employed, reminding one of the composer’s close connection with what used to be called ‘advanced vocal techniques’, and music theatre. The ethereal opening of the third section is particularly beautiful. Apart from the very English-sounding Italian, the performances are as dramatic and intense as one could ask.