3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2007
As a lover of early music and having previously bought recordings of the Heulgas Ensemble I purchsed this recording expecting the usual high standard. What I got was something much, much more. This recording is a living example of 'affetti'. These madrigals by Lassus are presented here simply and full of emotion. The voices blend seamlessly with the viol consort and divers instruments creating an atmosphere full of emotion. I will recommend this to anyone looking for great music, beautiful singing and classy packaging. Buy it!! NOW!!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2013
Lassus's first settings of Petrarch sonnets were in 1555, whereas Willaert's summation of the format, "Musica Nova", the closest parallel for this esoteric material, published four years later, was in gestation in the early 1540s. Although the composers overlapped they are a generation apart. Their careers and personal lives also diverged decisively. Unlike Willaert (as far as is known), Lassus had an outstanding early training as a singer. After a spell in Italy, he settled at the duke of Bavaria's Munich court, where he married and had a family. He was also socially mobile and attained the trappings of nobility. Again, as far as is known, he did not experience any of the langueurs d'amour that inspired Petrarch.
As with Willaert's "Musica Nova", sung by Singer Pur (Amazon B002N5KER4), Lassus's "il canzoniere di Messer Francesco Petrarca" performed by the Huelgas-Ensemble under Paul Van Nevel, (Amazon B0001WECNI) has received across-the-board eulogies. However, for five stars there have to be some criteria: "very beautiful, easy listening..." isn't sufficient. Easy listening it isn't, anyway. There is also a recurring problem with the conductor, Paul Van Nevel, of knowing precisely what one is listening to. Lassus published his final Petrarch settings in 1593, as the notes indicate. However, there is no attempt at chronology in this collection. This makes it unnecessarily difficult to assess individual pieces, in relation not just to each other, but to the work of composers elsewhere who set Petrarch to music (Willaert was not the only one).
Direct comparison with Willaert's "Musica Nova" is limited to the single number which overlaps with Singer Pur: "Cantai, hor piango". Van Nevel's ensemble includes instruments, which makes for greater variety (there are no obvious anomalies with this. Lassus worked with instruments at the Bavarian court, though he didn't compose a single known instrumental piece). Despite the instrumental contribution, the diction of Van Nevel's singers comes over more clearly than that of Singer Pur. The setting reaches an appropriate climax on the word "altezza". Willaert's setting eschews such a gesture, but contrives a sense of unfulfillment in the harmonisation of the final phrase "del mio amaro la radice" (the root of my bitterness - the English translator in Singer Pur's notes makes a complete pig's ear of this phrase). Any listener who wishes to pursue this type of comparison to the bitter end (so to speak) can do so via a 1994 Ph.D thesis at the University of Illinois titled "A comparative analysis of 18 settings of Petrarch's `Tutto'l dipiango; e poi la notte, quando'" (track 4 in Van Nevel's compilation), locatable via the internet. I don't know if it contradicts my assertions. Somebody else should have a go at that.
Willaert and Lassus both reveal a fundamental weakness of sonnet settings, not just for they themselves, but for all the others: the 14 line length. In the settings I have heard, Willaert and Lassus make a break at line 8, so that they fall into two unequal parts. This structure, repeated throughout a recording, palls with continuous listening. I think it is no accident that probably the most popular setting of a Petrarch poem is Cipriano de Rore's 1548 "Mia Benigna Fortuna" (Amazon B00006O8P7), a 12 line verse, itself one of the most widely set by other composers.
There are too many loose ends to permit a clear-cut recommendation here. A number of things have to happen before this is possible. Though not encouraged by the lack of Italian versions of the notes to either Van Nevel's or Singer Pur's selections, Italian groups have to tackle this repertoire. Performances of Petrarch settings by other composers of the period have to be made available to enable an anthology of outstanding settings rather than a "complete works of..." approach; where instruments are added or adjustments such as transposition are made, there should be some explanation of the principles applied. In the meantime, this debate is ongoing. If you want to be part of it, you have to have this issue.