Profeti della Quinta - Salomone Rossi: Il Mantovano Hebreo - Gramophone

Basle-based Israeli vocal ensemble Profeti della Quinta were worthy winners of the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition in 2011, and this disc is their prize. It is not a debut and nor is it the first time they have recorded music by the Jewish composer Salmone Rossi (c1570–c1630), but it is a fine way to annouce their arrival. For whereas their 2009 release focused on Rossi's unusual polyphonic settings of Hebrew psalms and prayers, here they range across the entire compass of this agreeable composer's output, taking in madrigals, vocal duets, and (courtesy of some guest instrumentalists) sinfonias and dances for two violins and continuo. 

It is of course fascinating to hear polyphonic psalms sung in Hebrew by native speakers but it is important to point out that the music has no more of a Jewish flavour than that. Rossi was a contemporary of Monteverdi in Mantua and as a composer was in the mainstream of Italian music of the period. His vocal music is mostly late-Renaissance in style, being five-part settings of texts by poets also trated by Monteverdi and Maremzio. Rossi's versions are elegant, skilled and attractive but do not have his colleagues' level of dramatic incident. More sparkily Barouque are the duets from his Madrigaletti and the instrumental pieces, which are among the earliest applications of the trio sonata principle.

Profeti is an all-male group and, as often with such ensembles, distinguished largely by the sound of its top-line altos. Bothere here are fluid and focused, and, though not always quite in tuen, have character enough to carry off sweetly a couple of the madrigals as solos with lute (Rossi's own suggestion). More importantly, though, the group as a whole perform with a secure sense of direction and a feel for the music, and are confident enough to add occasional discreet ornamentation. The instrumental playing is also excellent. Definitely an ensemble to look out for.

01 March 2014