25th anniversary cocktail selection from I Fagiolini

I Fagiolini early music consort
I Fagiolini early music consort

TWO extremely well known British early music vocal groups with many global air miles between them, I Fagiolini and the Orlando Consort, have imminent visits to Sheffield.

Making at least its third visit to the city (it may be the fourth) under Music in the Round auspices, I Fagiolini is here on Saturday and prefaces an evening concert in the Crucible Studio with a vocal workshop earlier in the day.

Founded in 1986 by its director Robert Hollingworth – a BBC Radio 3 presenter these days – its main activity is in late Renaissance and early Baroque vocal music with Monteverdi a particular speciality.

Saturday’s concert is described as a 25th birthday cocktail which seems a fairly accurate when you look at the programme, even if madrigals tend to dominate.

Proceedings start with a six-part one, Das Gläut zu Speyer by the Swiss-born, German-domiciled Ludwig Senfl, born circa 1486 and dying somewhere between December 2 1542 and August 10 1543.

Although Senfl’s name will mean nothing to all but a few, like those of Alessandro Striggio and Giaches de Wert elsewhere in the concert, they were extremely well known in their day.

Striggio (1536/ 7-February 29 1592), represented by his five-part Caro Dolce Ben Mio, developed the madrigal comedy, long held as a precursor of opera, while his 40-part motet Ecce Beatam Lucem prompted Tallis’ Spem in Alium.

Striggio, who also penned a 40-part Mass with a 60-part Agnus Dei was widely influential, while even more so was the Franco-Flemish, Italian-domiciled composer Giaches de Wert (1538-96), also with a five-part madrigal being performed, Qual Musico Gentil.

Long a name in the mists of time, recent research has shown de Wert to have been a major influence on Monteverdi and on music’s transition between its late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. The biggest name in the transition, Monteverdi himself (1567-1643), inevitably has a work in I Fagiolini’s concert, Incenerite Spoglie from his Sixth Book of Madrigals.

Clément Janequin (c1485-1558), popular in his lifetime and famed for his umpteen chansons, especially the programmatic ones, gets a look in with one of the better-known ones Le Chant des Oiseaux.

Another much more recent Frenchman, the highly prolific Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), also gets a look-in with Deux Poèmes Op 39 and, even more recent, there is a work by a living Englishman Orlando Gough, The Spell.

Commissioned for the National Centre for Early Music’s 10th anniversary with an eye also on I Fagiolini’s 25th birthday, the work was premiered in London last November.

The piece, to an English text by Timothy Knapman, is based on the Armida/ Rinaldo sequence towards the end of the epic First Crusade poem Jerusalem Liberated by the great 16th century Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544-95).

Armida is an enchantress who lures a Christian knight, Rinaldo, to her magic island and the tale has inspired works by a whole host of composers, famous and less so.

One of the earliest is the de Wert piece at this concert, which sets five stanzas of Canto 16 in which she begs him to stay, without success.

Gough says: “Our piece treats this as the main scene of the story and invades it with 14 tiny songs, which present potent images from the rest of the story: a maze, a magic garden, a talking bird, a running queen, a deserted shore, a vaporised palace, a flying chariot…

“The text consists of 14 intense miniature poems, and the music is very varied, exotic and dramatic.”

Jazz and folksong arrangements end I Fagiolini’s concert and the group’s resident alto is mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson, who makes a swift return to the city having performed Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater with Manchester Camerata at the City Hall a fortnight ago.