Gombert: Motets

Beauty Farm (Bart Uvyn countertenor, Achim Schulz, Adriaan de Koster & Hannes Wagner tenor, Joachim Höchbauer & Martin Vögerl bass
117:09 (2 CDs)
frabernardo FB 1504211
Motets a4 Domine non secundum peccata, O Domina mundi, Sancta Maria mater Dei, Salve regina, Si ignoras te
Motets a5 Ave mater matris Dei, Emendemus in melius, O beata Maria, O flos campi, Sancta et immaculata, Tribulatio cordis mei, Veni dilecta mea
Motets a6 Ave salus mundi, Benedicta es, Descendi in hortum meum, O crux splendidior, O Jesu Christe succurre miseris, Peccata mea sicut saguttæ, Si bona suscepimus

The quirkily named Beauty Farm draws its membership from a number of top continental ensembles and sounds beautifully blended with accurate intonation. If the recorded sound gave an initial impression of claustrophobia, by no means inappropriate for Gombert, I soon warmed to it. What seemed lacking was a wide dynamic range, with long sections delivered at an amiable mezzo forte and little attempt at anything atmospherically quiet or dramatically loud. The performances seem to rely on Gombert’s often remarkable harmonic progressions, but sometimes these were just not enough to hold the attention, and I could certainly have done with more expressive singing.

The two discs offer a generous cross-section of Gombert’s motets in four, five and six parts, and if the performances were a bit unrelenting in large helpings, this may well be a collection best dipped into rather than consumed in its entirety. The notes make extravagant claims for the new editions being performed – ‘the new editions… reveal a dark, intricate, rough and vibrant music.’ This seems to be attributed to the new application of musica ficta. As a performer grown increasingly suspicious of the overenthusiastic application of these chromatic inflections, I would be wary of any suggestion that they reveal anything hidden about a composer’s original intentions – the lack any specific examples in the notes leaves the question open.

D. James Ross

Nicolas Gombert (c1495-1560) “was probably the most important composer of the generation of musicians between Josquin and Palestrina along with… Morales and Clemens.” His dense and complex polyphony is uncompromising in its demands, on both performers and listener alike, but richly repays the effort!

Beauty Farm (why the name??) and especially their editor, Jorge Martin, are to be congratulated on assembling this fine collection of some of Gombert’s greatest motets. Particular highlights for me were the opening track of disc 1, Veni Dilecta Mea, with its cantus firmus obstinatus ‘Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis’, the magnificent Peccata Mea on the same disc, with its wonderful cadential ‘Miserere mei’ closing both prima and seconda pars, and the remarkable polytextual Salve Regina on disc 2, with each voice having a different Marian text, all finally coinciding (to satisfying effect) on the closing ‘O Dulcis Maria.’

Performances are one-to-a-part, in the mellow acoustic of Kartause Mauerbach. Musica Ficta is convincingly and copiously applied, resulting in some absolutely astonishing harmonic clashes. Tone and blend are excellent, although words are often rather indistinct, and there is a certain sameness in the music-making; these wondrous pieces are, however, best listened to and enjoyed in small doses, so the latter need not concern one unduly. Jorge Martin’s sleeve notes are good, though one would have liked a little more detailed description of the individual motets.

Alastair Harper