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GRAMOPHONE (05/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

The reign of Rudolf II (1576-1611) marked the zenith of Prague as an imperial capital. But whereas Rudolf’s patronage of the fine arts (and occultists of all stripes, for that matter) is the stuff of legend, his interest in music seems to have been limited. From his father and predecessor he inherited his chapel-master Philippe de Monte, and of all the contemporary musicians of comparable standing, Monte is arguably the least striking. Put another way, there were others active in Prague (Jacobus Gallus springs to mind) whose output might seem to us more in tune with the eccentric, eclectic atmosphere of Rudolph’s court. So the decision to illustrate its music on this recording with almost exclusive reference to Monte, while logical, somehow feels like a missed opportunity.


Perhaps it’s Monte’s apparent reluctance to engage with the structural potential of musical rhetoric that makes his music difficult to grasp nowadays. It’s unimpeachably well made, and its own reluctance to draw attention to itself might be considered a positive attribute. When performed as sympathetically as here, it is very enjoyable to listen to (the two Italian madrigals included here particularly so). Cappella Mariana use solo voices and instruments (cornetts, sackbuts, organ and theorbo). The overall sound is well blended, the individual timbres are most attractive and the sense of dedication and commitment is obvious. Does the music need grabbing yet more forcibly by the scruff of the neck? I still wonder; but don’t hesitate to puzzle the thing out for yourself.


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