For this 2016 release on Sony Music, Paul van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble explore the cross-currents of styles that marked the transition between the Renaissance and the Baroque eras.
Claudio Monteverdi was the most innovative composer of the early 17th century, though his Missa in illo tempore of 1610 is a throwback to the older prima pratica of 16th century counterpoint in its pure harmonies, flowing lines, and placid expression.
Yet four Renaissance composers who worked only a few decades earlier than Monteverdi -- Nicola Vicentino, Cesare Tudino, Giaches de Wert, and Luca Marenzio -- appear to be his forerunners, because their madrigals anticipated the sharp musical contrasts and heightened emotions that would become hallmarks of Monteverdi's seconda pratica and the foundation of Baroque music.
The Missa in illo tempore is cast in the standard five movements, and between them are interspersed Vicentino's L'aura che'l verde lauro, Tudino's Amor, i'ho molti e molt'anni pianto, de Wert's Mia benigna fortuna, and Marenzio's Solo e pensoso, all showing the subtle chromatic shifts of harmony, dramatic modulations, poignant dissonances, and mixing of homophonic and polyphonic textures that Monteverdi would later exploit.
The Huelgas Ensemble's evenly blended voices give the mass a calm, reflective feeling, though the madrigals' moods are unstable and occasionally disconcerting, particularly in the Gesualdo-like L'aura che'l verde lauro, and the group conveys its passionate expressions with a balance of intensity and control.