BBC Music Magazine

The Unknown Traveller


Works by Byrd, Faignient, Ferrabosco, Ferretti, Laasso, Palestrina, Rowarth, et al

Fieri Consort Fieri Records FIER002TUT 71:46 mins The debut disc of the young Fieri Consort, last April’s Choral and Song Choice, combined Italian madrigals with a new work by Ben Rowarth. This follow-up sticks to the same formula: but the madrigals, by Italian and Flemish composers, are sung in translatio­ns from Nicholas Yonge’s 1588 anthology Musica Transalpin­a, designed to introduce the genre to English singers. The performanc­es are precise in attack and pitching, and sensitivel­y balanced; the overall sound is lovely, except that the sweetness of the high soprano line soon becomes cloying. Diction is not bad, but in a church acoustic not quite clear enough to compensate for the lack of printed texts. Given that the essence of the madrigal is its response to the meaning of the words, this reduces the listening experience to a simple enjoyment of their sonic beauty.

Ben Rowarth’s eight-voice Short Walk of a Madman builds on the ideas of journeying and translatio­n with its progressio­n from confusion to unanimity, madness to clarity. I confess I can’t follow the composer’s explanatio­n of how this is related to the refugee experience, or to a spiral structure derived from Dante’s Divine Comedy, or to the four notably obscure poems by e.e. cummings which are set with increasing audibility in the four movements. But the work’s extreme difficulti­es are negotiated by the Consort with supreme confidence; and in the light of Rowarth’s insistence on its essentiall­y abstract nature, perhaps it’s best approached as another sonic experience. Anthony Burton



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