Verdelot - Catherine King and Jacob Heringman - A Renaissance Songbook - International Record Review

With quite a few Renaissance composers we know more about their lives than their works, but with Philippe Verdelot the reverse is true. Apart from the fact that he was a Frenchman who worked in Florence during the 1520s and early 1530s we know little about his life, but the manuscripts and printed editions that preserve well over a hundred of his madrigals bear witness to the esteem in which his contemporaries held him. This intelligently planned and sensitively performed disc helps us to hear why. Verdelot's achievement was to match a refined northern contrapuntal technique to the elegant new style of lyric poetry being cultivated in Florence and Rome; in so doing he became one of the inventors of the sixteenth-century madrigal. But although Marenzio and Monteverdi are in a sense his direct descendants, his music doesn't aim at their thrilling intensification of the poetry's meaning. It's content to reflect that meaning with elegance and economy - poetry and music hand in equal hand. This group of performers understands that balance very well, and never tries to load the music with more 'meaning' than it can comfortably bear. Madrigals were not exclusively vocal; they were often performed with instrumental doubling or with instruments standing in for one or more of the voices. Verdelot's first four-part book was even published in versions for single voice and lute by no less a hand than Willaert's. (The otherwise excellent notes are wrong to suggest that this was a task unworthy of him, since it involved making subtle desicions about which chromatic changes the original ideally called for.) The most convenient modern editions of both versions, and certainly the cheapest, are published in the London Pro Musica Edition - MA3 and MR3. For variety's sake this recording shares the pieces between solo voice (Catherine King or Charles Daniels, both excellent) and lute, the full vocal quartet with or without lute, and even solo lute arrangements. My only quibble would be with balance: second tenor and lute both sound to me a little backward. In any case this is a refreshing taste of the Italian madrigal literature in its innocent youth.

International Record Review
05 February 2001