... but not on a vocal par with ensembles like La Venexiana or Il Complesso Barocco, singing similar repertoire. Honestly, if I'd heard David Skinner's ensemble Alamire ten or fifteen years ago, I might have been thrilled by their understanding of the madrigal form, but the leadership in 'early music' has shifted away from England to France and Italy, and today this performance sounds academic. The singers, I suspect, are recruited from the choral ranks of Oxford and Cambridge. Skinner has been active at both universities.
Philippe Verdelot was a Frenchman who spent the central and most important years of his career in the early 16th Century in Italy, particularly in Florence. He is known to have been a close pal of Niccolo Macchiavelli. He is clearly an important link between the Parisian composers of madrigalesque chansons, Sermisy for instance, and the up-and-coming Italians of the next generation. In other words, the archetypal Italian madrigal of Marenzio/Gesualdo/Monteverdi/d'India had a French parentage.
All the madrigals on this CD come from a set of five part-books (open score didn't exist) prepared under Verdelot's supervision in Florence around 1526 and presented as a gift to the English King Henry VIII. The history of their survival in quite fascinating. From Henry's library, years later somehow they passed into the hands of Francis Tregian, a Catholic recusant who died in prison for his crime of conscience in 1619. Then, amazingly, four of the partbooks reappeared in the 19th Century, in the possession of a series of antiquarian book collectors. Bernard Quaritch, the last of the collectors, sold the four partbooks to the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1935; thus the set is now known as the Newberry Partbooks. However, the alto partbook was presumed lost forever, and a musicologist named Colin Slim attempted a re-composition of that missing part, which was published in 1972. The publication resulted in the discovery of the fifth partbook, which had never left England but had survived in the catholic community. It had been left to Oscott College in 1883 by one Francis Amherst, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Northampton. Professor Slim made transcriptions of the missing lines and published them in the magazine Early Music in 1978. The five partbooks are still lodged in separate libraries, but the music is widely available. This recording is the first ever to unite all 30 madrigals in one performance.