Thursday 1 November 2018

The Unknown Traveller

Fieri Consort - The Unknown Traveller
The Unknown Traveller, madrigals from Musica Transalpina, Ben Rowath A Short Walk of a Madman; The Fieri Consort; Fieri Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 October 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Fieri Consort returns to Italian madrigals, but this time through an English lens, combined with Ben Rowarth's new e.e.cummings-inspired piece

The Fieri Consort's first disc, released in 2017 [see my review] was a daring combination of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna interleaved with a new sequence of pieces by Ben Rowarth, written specifically for the ensemble. For their new disc, The Unknown Traveller (release on the ensemble's own label), they continue combining Rowarth with 16th century Italian madrigals but this new disc puts an interesting slant on the whole genre.

The first part of the disc consists of madrigals by Conversi, Ferretti, Monte, Palestrina, Faignient, Lasso, Ferrabosco and Byrd, followed by Ben Rowarth's four-movement Short Walk of a Madman. But the Italian madrigals are all sung in English, and are taken from Musica Transalpina. This was a collection published in England in 1588, a highly influential selection of Italian madrigals made available for Englishmen and put into English, with the translator using word for word English versions so English musicians could easily appreciate the way Italian composers married text to music. The fascinating thing is that this translator is unknown, and this gave rise to the disc's name The Unknown Traveller.
Musica Transalpina
Musica Transalpina

Hearing this music in English is remarkable, as it gives a whole new slant to the sound.
We are, by now, well used to Italian madrigals from the 16th century, sung in a variety of styles on disc, and musicologists also pay due respect to the influence in England on the publication of Musica Transalpina. Yet we rarely hear items from it, and it is fascinating how much different the language makes the pieces, and how it is possible to pick up links with the English madrigal style.

The Fieri Consort is an ensemble of eight voices, sopranos Lucy Cox and Hannah Ely, mezzo-sopranos Helen Charlston and Nancy Cole, tenors Tom Kelly and Josh Cooter, bass baritone Ben McKee and baritone David Maguire. The madrigals from Musica Transalpina are recorded one to a part with varying line-ups depending on the music. The results have a lovely consort feel to them, with up to eight characterful voices coming together to create a unified sound, yet with a clear differentiation between voices. Diction in in the Musica Transalpina items is good, so that the English words count for a lot when combined with the singers feeling for the Italian music.

Ben Rowarth's Short Walk of a Madman is written for all eight voices of the consort and is perhaps less of a madrigal sequence. Though Rowarth sets poems by e.e.cummings, the words of these are not always entirely clear and he is more concerned with tonalities and textures than the combination of music and text. The ideas of loneliness is one which Rowarth deals with explicitly through the use of multiple concurrent tonalities in the piece, only gradually coming together as the four movements progress. Paralleling this is another sense of journeying, that of Dante's Divine Comedy with each of the first three movement refracting one aspect of this, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, with the fourtt movement reflecting different aspects of 'Paradise'.

Fieri Consort
Fieri Consort
I have to confess that I am not sure whether the work is a consort piece or a choral one, and wonder what a performance with, say, 18 voices rather than eight would be like. But on this disc the result is a work which is complex, challenging and rather thrilling, with the eight singers really investing in the music and taking us on a powerful journey.

The Fieri Consort - The Unknown Traveller
Madrigals from Musica Transalpina
Ben Rowarth - Short Walk of a Madman
The Fieri Consort (Lucy Cox, Hannah Ely, Helen Charlston, Nancy Cole, Tom Kelly, Josh Cooter, Ben McKee, David Maguire)
Recorded January 2018 at St George's Church, Chesterton

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Disturbing intensity: Lucia di Lammermoor at ENO (★★★★) - opera review
  • Voices of Aotearoa - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir at Cadogan Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Die Walküre - Royal Opera House Live  - (★★★½) Opera review
  • Confidence: Julien Behr in 19th century Romantic French opera arias (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Musical drama: Bellini's Norma with Helena Dix in the title role  - (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • New music in Manchester - I chat to Tim Williams, artistic director of Psappha  - my interview
  • A walk with Ivor Gurney: Sarah Connolly and Tenebrae at Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Colour and movement: orchestral music by Kenneth Hesketh (★★★½) - CD review
  • Abbandonata: Italian cantatas from Carolyn Sampson and Robert King  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivid story telling: Schubert's Swansong with Sir John Tomlinson and Christopher Glynn (★★★★) - CD review
  • Music for Windy Instruments: Sounds from the court of King James I (★★★½) - CD review
  • Independent Opera Showcase Recital at Wigmore Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Damn fine music: Stanford's Mass Via Victrix (1914-1918) receives its belated premiere  - feature
  • A visit to Italy at the Oxford Lieder Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  •  Home

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