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GRAMOPHONE (08/2021)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

The focus on Josquin’s deathanniversary risks overlooking Philippe de Monte, 2021’s other quincentenarian. In past reviews I’ve tended to hedge my bets regarding the composer, a more elusive figure – OK, I’ll say it: duller – than Lassus or Palestrina. But the music recorded here is certainly not dull. Most of it is lovely, and the best sticks in the memory in a way that few things from previous anthologies have done – the opening track, S’io odo alcun felice, or among the French songs La grand’ amour, to name just two. A few pieces are performed instrumentally, including a pair of short motets, but this is the first disc that focuses on de Monte’s secular output.

Based in Belgium, the group Ratas del Viejo Mundo are new to me (so far as I can see, their website is no more informative than the booklet notes for this CD). Consisting of four singers and three string players (plucked and bowed), it presents the music under a variety of guises, typically changing combinations between strophes in pieces, as in O triste ennuy. In other hands the strategy may betray a lack of confidence in the music or listeners’ attention spans, but not here. A ‘straight’ reading of Oimè, che belle lacrime – with voices and instruments, one-to-a-part and no frills – is delivered with complete conviction. Where solo voices are accompanied, they have freshness and naturalness, with only the occasional hesitancy. Which leads to my one reservation: fine as the singers are (the females especially), so close is the sound recording that they seldom exceed mezzo-forte, constraining the interplay of lines and the capacity for textual emphasis. Is this a consequence of recording under lockdown conditions, as this appears to have been? (There is also an odd recording artefact at the start of track 2.) Whatever the case, de Monte is not an obvious, eye-catching programming choice for young performers seeking to make their mark: all the more reason to commend them, and recommend this.

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