The little English early music choir with the wacky Italian name (I Fagiolini means “the beans”) has made it to the big-time with its Decca debut, which has outstripped albums by pop stars such as Eminem and Bon Jovi on the British charts. I also say “big-time” because the madrigal specialists have augmented their lineup for this premiere recording of a long-lost High Renaissance masterpiece in forty individual parts.
Like Monteverdi a generation later, Alessandro Striggio was employed by the court of Gonzaga and patronised by the powerful Medicis. But his name is associated more often with Thomas Tallis, who famously heard one of Striggio’s 40-part offerings and indulged a little one-upmanship with the same polychoral forces in the famous Spem in alium.
Tallis may streak ahead of his competition in mastery of intricate contrapuntal strands, but Striggio is adept at dispatching block choral effects garlanded with soloistic, florid detail. The latter’s Agnus dei swells to a staggering 60 individual parts.
I Fagiolini’s sense of grandeur does not overshadow more intimate moments such as the soprano-led opening of the Sanctus, delicately accompanied by lute and viol. Hollingworth’s decision to double each sub-group with a different instrumental section delineates choral entries: shawms and recorders embroider the voices with distinctive colour, but regal cornetts and sackbuts occasionally drown out the singers. This may be remedied for those with the correct setup to hear the full surround sound version on the bonus DVD, which also includes an insightful mini-documentary.