Like the fools in the poem by Goldsmith, I came to scoff and remain’d – well, not to pray, but certainly to admire. Alessandro Grandi was appointed deputy to Monteverdi at St. Mark’s in Venice in 1620, having joined the choir three years earlier. However, these motets were published in 1614, when Grandi was still a maestro di cappella in Ferrara. They are scored, in five parts, for the usual mixed voices. Musica Secreta is an all-female group; I don’t see the point of, for instance, a soprano singing Winterreise, hence the scoffing.

But actually it works very well, the tenor and bass parts transposed up an octave and a continuo group providing firm support. Less successful are the two motets transposed up a fourth, where a slight sense of strain is apparent. Like Monteverdi, Grandi faces both ways: backwards with
counterpoint, forwards with monody. Several motets start with solo voice and continuo, the other parts joining later.

Whether singing solo or as an ensemble, the ladies of Musica Secreta sound beautiful, the bright sopranos of Deborah Roberts and Tessa Bonner complemented by the throaty alto of Caroline Trevor. One of the most appealing motets is “Quo rubicunda rosa”, which begins with a duet and becomes quite Venetian in its antiphonal exchanges.

To be honest, the overall effect is bland. Grandi;s melodies fall easily on the ear, but all too rarely are they spiked with chromaticism, “Versa est in luctum” being an exception. In some of the pieces by other composers, the ensemble is joined by the eight-strong Celestial Sirens. The variety of texture is welcome, though the most moving singing comes from Catherine King in “Vox in Rama”, done as a solo with instruments. The booklet is badly laid out. An enterprising disc all the same, well worth hearing.

—Richard Lawrence