Verdelot Madrigals for a Tudor King
Before Arcadelt, Philippe Verdelot was the first composer whose name became significantly associated with the madrigal. This CD offers the madrigals contained in a set of part-books made in the mid-1520s for Henry VIII as a gift from the city of Florence, where Verdelot was working. It’s thought he had a hand in their compilation, and most are either ascribed to, or thought to be by, him. Particularly interesting is the way in which some pieces veer towards the French chanson, others towards imitative “motet-style” practice, and still others (for example Pur troppo, donna) to a freer synthesis of these different elements (also including antiphony) through which the madrigal first comes into its own. By later standards Verdelot’s idiom may seem a touch one-dimensional, but its freshness and directness are undeniable. Sometimes, when the poet ranges beyond the conventional love-lyric (as in Petrarch’s Italia mia), the composer, too, seems to find greater depth.
Alamire are on fine form here, alternating several performance possibilities, as on their recent recording of Josquin for this label: solo lute, lute and voice, lute and vocal consort, or consort on its own. That the top line is often paired with the lute is no surprise, but other voices were often so treated, and different ones are heard here. The solo lute option works surprisingly well because the rhythm of the words is perfectly audible even when they are not actually sung (the lyrics of all the pieces are given in the booklet, regardless of how they are performed). Not all the solo performances match the consummate polish of the ensemble, but the trade-off in the variety of approach is ample compensation.