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Philippe VERDELOT (c1480 - c1530): "Madrigals for four voices"

Profeti della Quinta
Dir: Elam Rotem

rec: June 30 - July 2 & July 19 - 20, 2020, Waldenburg (CH), Studio Waldenburg
Pan Classics - PC 10422 ( 2021) (49'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ben che'l misero cor; Con lagrime et sospir; Con suave parlar con dolce accento; Deh, perche si veloce; Divini occhi sereni; Fuggi, fuggi, cor mio!; Gloriar mi poss'io donne; Gran dolor di mia vita; Igno soave; Io son tal volta; La bella man mi porse Madonna; Madonna, per voi ardo; Madonna, qual certezza; Non vi fidate o simplicetti amanti; Ognor per voi sospiro; Passer mai solitario in alcun tetto; Quando Amor i belli occhi a terra inchina; Se dimostrarvi a pieno; Se l'ardor foss' equale; Se mai provasti donna; Si lieta e grata morte; Trist' Amarilli mia

Source: Di Verdelotto tutti li madrigali del primo et del secondo libro a quattro voci, 1540/156511

Giovanna Baviera, soprano, viola da gamba; Doron Schleifer, alto; Jacob Lawrence, tenor; Elam Rotem, bass
Anna Danilevskaia, Elizabeth Rumsey, Leonardo Bortolotto, viola da gamba

From the early 16th century to the early 17th numerous madrigals were written by Italian composers and also by composers in other regions of Europe. Many have come down to us in collections which have been preserved in either printed editions or in manuscript. Anthony Rooley, founder and director of The Consort of Musicke, once said that he could perform one different collection of madrigals of high quality every week for the rest of his life, indicating the quality and size of what was produced at the time. No wonder that today we only know the tip of the iceberg. The genre of the madrigal, which was the main form of vocal chamber music for about a century, is pretty well represented on disc. Unfortunately, the oeuvre of Philippe Verdelot seems to have been almost entirely overlooked. His madrigals are included in anthologies, but it seems that to date no discs are entirely devoted to his output. That makes the present disc all the more important.

Next to nothing is known about his career. His family name is derived from the place where he was born, which is in northern France. He must have moved to Italy fairly early, but it is not known exactly when. It seems that he was in Venice in the first decade of the 16th century; later he was in Bologna and Rome. In 1521 he arrived in Florence; there he was given the two most prestigious positions in the city: maestro di cappella at the baptistry of S Maria del Fiore and at the cathedral. There he also died, assumedly between 1530 and 1532. If this is true, all publications of his oeuvre date from after his death.

Verdelot composed some masses and a number of motets. Some of them were parodied by later composers, such as Palestrina, Lassus and Morales. That can be interpreted as a token of the high esteem in which he was held.

In total 147 madrigals are attributed to Verdelot, but a number of them are of doubtful authenticity. In the 1520s some pieces by him were included in anthologies; these are a mixture of elements of the frottola and the madrigal. In 1533 his first book of madrigals was printed in Venice by Andrea Antico; the next year a second book came from the press. These two books were reprinted together in 1540. 1536/37 a book with five-part madrigals was published, in 1637 a third book with madrigals for four voices. In 1536 a selection of his madrigals was published in adaptations for solo voice and lute. The man responsible for these intabulations was none other than 'Messer Adriano' - Adrian Willaert, the famous maestro de cappella of St Mark's in Venice.

Verdelot is considered one of the pioneers of the genre of the madrigal. In the article on him in New Grove it is mentioned that his madrigal oeuvre comprises conservative elements, but also features which point into the direction of Cipriano de Rore and even Claudio Monteverdi. Most of his madrigals are homophonic and syllabic. Harmonic means in the interest of text expression are seldom used, and text illustration is far away from what we meet in Rore, let alone Carlo Gesualdo. However, that does not mean that the text and its peculiarities are ignored. Elam Rotem, in his liner-notes, mentions several examples of episodes where Verdelot uses rhythmic means to depict a phrase or single words. In some madrigals the homophonic progress is broken up by rhetorical figures in order to single out a word or phrase. There are also madrigals in which the ensemble is divided into groups of voices - one vs three or two vs two. In some madrigals one can even find declamatory passages, which was to become part of the madrigal repertoire later on. The latter represents one of the modern elements in his oeuvre.

The programme comprises a selection of madrigals from the two first books; the performers have used the last reprint of the 1540 edition of the two books combined. This also means that the singers sang from part-books rather than a score. Rotem explains the differences and refers to the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to spend some time getting used to performing madrigals this way. He also mentions an important aspect of performance practice in vocal music of the Renaissance, known as musica ficta: "[When] certain accidentals (sharps or flats) are not notated by the composer and are to be applied by the performers". As in Verdelot's music almost no accidentals are written down, and some are clearly necessary, their application is a matter of choice, "either based on music theory or simply taste". If the singers sing from their own part rather than the score, they may come up with different solutions. Which solutions Verdelot may have preferred, is impossible to say, and Rotem assumes that in his time and afterwards, singers may have made different choices as well.

In comparison with its recent recording "Amor, Fortuna et Morte", the ensemble looks different. The tenor Dan Dinkelblum seems to have been replaced by Jacob Lawrence. Whereas in previous recordings the upper voice was sung by Doron Schleifer, here that part is sung by Giovanna Baviera. Rotem explains that in musical institutions only male singers participated, but in domestic performances female singers took part. The latter has been the context chosen for this recording. Giovanna Baviera also plays one of the viole da gamba in the consort of viols, which performs four of the madrigals. The change in the line-up has not in any way compromised the quality of the performances. As in previous recordings, the singing is excellent, and as a result we get here wonderful performances that do full justice to the nature and quality of Verdelot's madrigals. It is just a shame that the playing time of this disc is so short. I would have liked to hear more. Let's hope that Verdelot's oeuvre is going to receive more attention than it has been given to date. This disc convincingly demonstrates that it is worth to be thoroughly explored.

Johan van Veen ( 2021)

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