Austria's curiously named Ensemble Mikado (perhaps it's that it consists of three little maids from school, plus a male recorder player and a vocalist) is one of the few groups from so far east to essay the music of the English Renaissance. The stated aim is to present Renaissance music in a modern fashion, and it may be that the photo of the group in the booklet, in which everyone wears outfits vaguely reminiscent of Star Trek uniforms, is part of that endeavor. As it happens, Ensemble Mikado does have a fresh sound. It has less to do with the arrangements, often for voice, recorder trio, and viol, than with the singing of soprano Theresa Dlouhy. Sample one of the vocal tracks to see whether it's agreeable to you; its piercing sound, broadening at phrase ends to a quick, and tense vibrato are unusual for the repertory, and she has an odd way of pronouncing words like "to" and "do." If all's well on that front, proceed, for the program is this album's strong point. It is short on the hits of the madrigal and lute song traditions (Dowland's Can She Excuse is perhaps the only track that would qualify) but well stocked with unusual pieces, creatively put together. Ensemble Mikado divides the hour and 10 minutes of music roughly into three parts, with vocal and instrumental pieces exemplifying the Elizabethan ideal of melancholy framing a group of generally rarer comic pieces. Songs like Thomas Vautor's Mother, I Will Have a Husband (track 14), which is almost like a piece of comic opera, are heard singly from time to time, but to string several of them together is an original idea. The fun comes to something of a halt with Byrd's My mistress had a little dog, and the melancholy returns, concluding with John Bennet's madrigal in praise of Elizabeth, All Creatures Now, and a semi-sacred madrigal, Campion's Never Weather-Beaten Saile. The booklet notes include an unconvincing thesis linking these various moods to Elizabeth's political machinations, but the program makes a satisfying whole and includes some very occasionally heard composers (Vautor, John Coperario, who was named Cooper but trendily restyled himself Elway Bevin). All texts are given in English, French, and German, but the song texts and their translations are successive, not parallel.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim