Allegri, Monteverdi
Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre
Alpha 438. 73’10

Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
Luigi Rossi: Un allato messagier
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è ‘l martire
Anon: Domine, ne in furore tuo
Domenicho Mazzocchi: Breve è la vita nostra
Antonio Maria Abbatini: Sinfonia La comica del cielo
Marco Marazzoli: Chi fà, Un sonno ohimè
Claudio Monteverdi: Maria, quid ploras, Pascha concelebranda

The word “Anamorphosis” is described by Wikipedia as “a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point, use special devices or both to view a recognizable image”. In the UK it is perhaps best known through its use Holbein’s famous 1533 painting The Ambassadors where what seems to be an elongated smudge across the bottom of the painting turns out to be a skull (a memento mori) when viewed sideways from the right-hand corner of the picture. It is that notion of artistic distortion that Vincent Dumestre and his Le Poème Harmonique explore in musical terms in this recording of music from the early Baroque era, a period when the structures of the Renaissance were successively deconstructed, and viewed from a different perspective through a lens of ornamentation and elaboration.

The recording opens with Allegri’s famed 1630 Miserere, but not as you may know it. The alternating chanted and harmonised verses are based on the familiar versions, but with an extraordinary kaleidoscope of vocal elaborations enfolding the vocal lines. Given the background to the piece, and the known practice of improvised ornamentation, there is no reason why this version is not just as close to the elusive original as many other versions – possibly a lot closer.

The recording continues with related musical slights of hand, notably that of altering the text of pieces whilst retaining the music. Example here are Monteverdi’s Lamento from Ariano, transformed into the sacred lament Pianto della Madonna, and Rossi’s famed Lament of the Queen of Sweden transformed into a lament on the death of Christ. Examples of parody include an opera performed in front of the same Queen of Sweden – Marazzoli’s La vita humana.

The 9 singers and 8 instrumentalists of Le Poème Harmonique are on very impressive form, notably Deborah Cachet, soprano, and Eva Zaicik, mezzo. Although the organ looks (from the recording photos) to be a standard-issue box organ it makes its presence heard well.