The Flemish composer Adrian Willaert (1490-1562) deserves wider recognition. A student of Jean Mouton, he made his name as a singer in the service of Cardinal Ippolito I d’Este and reached the height of his career as maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice. Willaert was one of the key figures in the ascendency of 16th century Venetian music and his students included such luminaries as Ciprian de Rore and Andrea Gabrieli. Many of Willaert’s sacred works were ground breakers in the development of music for double choir, so it’s no surprise that what Willaert we have on recordings is mostly sacred music.
But wait, there’s more! Willaert also composed chansons and madrigals and it’s his collection of Musica Nova madrigals that we have on this excellent recording by Singer Pur. Written around 1540, the Musica Nova collection is comprised of 25 madrigals that are scored for four to seven voices and are set to texts by Petrarch. This is serious music and showcase Willaert’s remarkably expressive style. Willaert’s writing is subtle and filled with delicate shifts in color and rhythm that draw the listener in. This is dense music and its subtleties require careful attention. They also require careful attention from the singers and that’s what makes these winning performances.
Singer Pur, a German group comprised of a soprano, three tenors, baritone, bass (the male singers were all choir boys in the Regensburger Domspatzen) and, for this recording, a guest countertenor sing brilliantly. I’ve become a big fan of the ensemble since I first heard their Factor Orbis (Ars Musici 232226) a terrific program of Renaissance sacred music. This music must be sung with precision and Singer Pur consistently delivers the goods with performances that are highly musical and technically polished. Take these madrigals in small servings because they are rich indeed, but the rewards are enormous. If there is any justice this recording will catapult this ensemble to greater recognition and set them on a path that explores more of the lesser-known madrigalists. For that matter, I hope they also take a shot at Willaert’s marvelous motets too.