Vaet: Sacred Music

Dufay Ensemble, Eckehard Kiem
224:50 (4 CDs in a plastic box)
Brilliant Classics 95365

Jacobus Vaet had the misfortune to fall out of favour twice. A prominent composer in the middle of the 16th century, he ended up as imperial Kapellmeister in Vienna, although like all but a handful of his contemporaries he lapsed into obscurity within fifty years. Curious then that it was Vaet whom Friedrich Blume chose to feature beside the great Josquin in the opening 1929 volume of his seminal Das Chorwerk. Sadly where the latter went on to be completely rehabilitated, the former somewhat sank back into obscurity. This four CD set of his choral works, a drop in the ocean of his large output but a generous helping nonetheless, serves to outline his strengths and weaknesses by providing a representative cross-section of his sacred music. This proves not to be an unalloyed delight for a couple of reasons. The Roches’ authoritative Dictionary of Early Music  describes Vaet’s early work as ‘solidly imitative’, and this is true of a fair percentage of the music recorded here, before we get into the later, more daring repertoire influenced by Lassus (and perhaps, as the programme note claims, the Venetians, although I found this harder to pin down). The polychoral repertoire is to my ear the most successful, particularly the Lassus-like setting of Ferdnande imperio, while the rather extravagant claims made in Peter Quantrill’s programme note for his mastery of dissonance seem to me a little overblown. The other slight drawback to this set is that the singing is not quite as confidently accurate as it might be – perhaps the main reason why the project has appeared on the budget Brilliant Boxes label. A lot of the singing sounds tentative and a bit workaday, and there is some distinctly uncomfortable intonation. This is a pity, but together with the decidedly patchy quality of the music it makes this set an informative resource rather than a listening delight. Having said that, many of the works here are receiving their premiere recordings, so anybody genuinely particularly interested in the music of Vaet or more generally in the repertoire of the Renaissance Viennese Hofkapelle will want to invest.

D. James Ross