CD review: Monteverdi’s Mirror

First published in the Guardian on 2 December, 2016

The Mirror of Monteverdi
Huelgas Ensemble/Van Nevel (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

What’s the term for when parody surpasses the material it parodies? Musicologists have described Monteverdi’s Missa in illo tempero as a ‘parody mass’ because it’s built around archaic material and techniques, but when he wrote it at the dawn of the 1600s Monteverdi was already looking back from some distance at the previous century — already inventing a kind of neo-Renaissance gloss that simultaneous confirmed him as a master of the old polyphony and blazed into new baroque sounds and styles. This robust, bold-sculpted recording from Paul van Nevel and his Belgian early music group Huelgas splits up the mass movements with four earlier madrigal, so the Kyrie segues into the  chromatic thicket of Nicola Vicentino’s Laura che’l verde lauro, then the stately, pliant Credo sinks into Giaches de Wert’s Mia benigna fortuna, and so on. As if Monteverdi’s meta-mass wasn’t enough for anachronisms, the extra chronological disjunct here is enjoyably disorientating. And the performance is excellent — vibrant, shapely, sensitive singing.