The Sicilian nobleman Sigismondo d'India was roughly contemporary with Monteverdi (both began their careers around 1600); the musical ferment of that period led, in d'India's case, to a very heady brew. His madrigals–duets, solos and five-voice works–are like inebriated Monteverdi: d'India set the Italian poetic texts (usually dealing with a lover's pain) with even less regard for academic counterpoint and even more surprising twists of harmony than did his more-famous colleague, yet the music never veers into the disorienting, seemingly willful weirdness of Gesualdo.
…Although aficionados of English sacred music of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries may already have recordings of the works of Byrd and Gibbons included here, few will be likely to have recordings of much by Humfrey – and that may be this set's most persuasive recommendation. Harmonia Mundi's digital sound, which ranges from 1987 for the Byrd through 1992 for the Humfrey to 2003 for the Gibbons, is consistently clear, deep, and warm.
The music of Orlando Gibbons represents the English response to radical changes that stemmed largely from Italy in the age of the birth of opera and a move away from the contrapunctal complexities of previous centuries. Whereas the Italian tended to write gradiose and radical works such of those by Monteverdi, the English tended to write music that was stylistically old-fashioned by the standards of the times, unostentatious with its preference for the sounds of the viol consort that helped make it so intimately poetic and evocative.
Born into an English musical family, organist and composer Christopher Gibbons (1615-1676) probably received early training from his famous father Orlando Gibbons. He sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal and went on to a distinguished career at Westminster Abbey and in the court of Charles II. With this showcase programme of motets, anthems, fantasias for strings, and organ voluntaries (all of which are receiving their first recording), Richard Egarr, the Academy of Ancient Music and the Choir of the AAM, aim to rescue the composer from unjust obscurity.
"Orlando Gibbons is my favorite composer -always has been, I can't think of anybody who represents the end of an era better than Orlando Gibbons does." This profession of faith in the great English virginalist is more than an act of defiance: it harks back to Gould's early childhood experiences with Puritanism.– Michael Stegemann