It's difficult to figure out from the cover, or from Internet images, what all is going on in this fine release by Montreal's Les Voix Baroques and Consort Les Voix Humaines. Even the booklet doesn't help much, going into great detail about a semi-theatrical comic work from 1604 by Monteverdi's contemporary Orazio Vecchi; only two small sections of the work are recorded here. Instead, the musicians use Vecchi as a springboard for a program of early Baroque vocal and instrumental pieces whose organization parallels that of a scene in the Vecchi work: a group of guests at a Carnival banquet begin to do imitations of accents and behaviors of people from various nations. The result is a set of pieces from the early years of the seventeenth century, divided into national schools or "humors." Germany is "martial," France "comic," Italy "light," and England "melancholic," with the whole thing framed by a pair of Vecchi's madrigals and a short processional piece by Giovanni Gastoldi. On top of all this, most of the music is oriented toward Carnival, with comic, sexual, and grotesque themes. There are a couple of complaints here. Caspar Othmayr's macaronic song Quis quis requiem quaeris (track 5), with its graphic espousal of violence against women, could easily enough have been left on the scrap heap of history (and doesn't really fit the idea of the program anyway). And the "Lent" half of this "theatre of humors," apparently provided by "The Silver Swan" and other English pieces, doesn't quite come off; melancholy humor and Lenten sobriety are two different things. Nevertheless, the program as a whole puts various genres of music from this era -- madrigals, chansons, various instrumental styles -- together in a fresh and convincing way that captures something of the entertainment a noble court of the time would have found in the music. Much credit goes to a fine cast of Canadian, American, and British singers led by soprano Suzie LeBlanc. All texts are given in French, English, and their original languages where not one of those two.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
From silent night, true register of moans, for voice, trumpet, bass viols & lute (A Pilgrimes Solace)