Categories
Recording

Elizabethan Organ Music

Gustav Leonhardt at the Schnitger organ, Zwolle, Holland
Paradizo PA0019
48:34

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For goodness’ sake do not do what I initially did, and dismissively assume that this is another re-hash of Leonhardt’s greatest hits. It is a unique recording, it is an historically significant recording, it is a superb recording, and anyone with an interest in early keyboard music will be delighted that this recording has been resurrected and made generally accessible. As Skip Sempé explains in the booklet, it was originally made for a niche American recording company in the spring of 1962, in a pressing of only a few hundred copies, available only in the USA. Now anyone and everyone can buy it, and the quality of the music and of the performances makes this a cause for rejoicing.

Sempé states that Leonhardt subsequently re-recorded only three of these eleven pieces: two for harpsichord and one for organ. The two harpsichord works are Farnaby’s Fantasia, and Gibbons’ Fantasia MB XX/6, both currently on Philips 4381532. The third re-recording that I have traced is Byrd’s Clarifica me pater III (on the CD it retains the superceded title that was current back in 1962) which Leonhardt plays on the claviorgan (Alpha 073); either Sempé has taken this performance to be on an actual organ, or I have missed a commercial recording of one of these pieces, played on an organ by Leonhardt. Either way, this is a release additionally to be treasured for these unique renditions by Leonhardt of eight fine Elizabethan pieces.

The organ which Leonhardt uses is in San-Michaelskerk, Zwolle, Netherlands, built by Arp and Frans Caspar Schnitger, 1721. Some Elizabethan music ostensibly composed for the virginals or harpsichord can sound strident at one extreme or reedy, even weedy, at the other when played on early organs. The Zwolle instrument sounds beautiful, though it does of course date from over a century after the repertory on this disc was composed. The choice of music is excellent, intermingling folk material with the rigours of plainsong fantasias, and free fantasias (and a prelude) with the discipline of a ground. The fantasias by Byrd and Philips are particularly well chosen, not only because they are both masterful compositions, but also because Philips, a pupil of Byrd, uses the same theme as his teacher. Their respective working out of the material makes for an enthralling comparison.

These compositions from a golden age are performed superbly. Leonhardt had a particular respect for Byrd, and there is the added frisson in hearing works of the first great composer for the keyboard being played by arguably the greatest modern performer on early keyboard instruments: it would be hard to imagine finer performances of either piece. The same can be said of the other nine pieces. Whether you own one, some, most, all, or none of these tracks, this is a recording that simply recommends itself: it is a major discographical event.

Richard Turbet

Categories
Recording

Enigma Fortuna

Zacara da Teramo : Complete Works
La Fonte Musica, Michele Pasotti
237:00 (4 CDs in a card box)
Alpha Classics Alpha 640

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Zacara of Teramo, AKA Antonio di Berardo di Andrea, is a kenspeckle figure who has only recently coalesced out of a number of shadowy figures of the period as a result of scholarly research into the early Italian Renaissance. (The ‘new’ Zacara now incorporates all of the first three entries under Z in J and E Roche’s excellent 1981 ‘Dictionary of Early Music’!) Active in the Brescia region, Zacara (‘Tiny’) probably acquired his nickname due to his restricted growth, while further deformities meant he had only ten digits altogether on his hands and feet, a fact unshrinkingly demonstrated in a surviving portrait. Now that a larger body of music by this one composer has been identified, he has emerged as an extremely important link between the ars subtilior of the 13th century and the music of the early Renaissance. This comprehensive 4-CD account of his complete sacred and secular oeuvre, including many premiere recordings, is a revelation, both sacred and secular works receiving very fine performances indeed on convincing blends of voices and instruments. It is perhaps easier to identify a specific individual style once a body of work has been confidently ascribed to one composer, but it is hard to see why it wasn’t clear all along that this was the work of a single distinctive and highly talented musical mind. There is also satisfaction for us nowadays in the discovery that a man coping with considerable physical challenges could be so successful in his chosen career and lead such a long and fruitful life in the 14th and 15th centuries. The sacred music (recorded on the first two CDs) in particular is among the finest I know from the period, and these superb idiomatic accounts by La Fonte Musica go a long way to re-establishing Zacara’s seminal role in the development of sacred Italian music. This is not to diminish the attractiveness of the two CDs of Zacara’s secular music, which open with his splendid Cacciando per gustar with its vivid evocation of a busy marketplace.

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

A 14th-century Salmagundi

Blue Heron
40:04
BHCD 1011

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How lovely to see the enterprising Bostonian vocal ensemble Blue Heron back in the recording studio, albeit for this rather brief CD of music earlier in period than their previous impressive discography – particularly memorable was a ground-breaking series of CDs of music from the Peterhouse Partbooks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Blue Heron prove superbly in tune with this 14th-century music, which I notice they have approached through recordings of the secular music of Johannes Ockeghem. The voices are occasionally joined by instruments for music by Machaut, Cruce, Vitry, Landini, Jacob Senleches and Jacopo da Bologna. Incidentally, this CD has nothing to do with psalms, the title coming from Rabelais’s Pantagruel and denoting a hodgepodge, and its contents consisting of secular songs! The performances are as I have suggested entirely enjoyable, although I noticed some unfortunate mic popping on a couple of tracks. It is interesting to hear the voices of Blue Heron sounding so natural one-to-a-part and with instruments, including a fine idiomatic contribution on bray harp by the group’s director, Scott Metcalfe. 

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

Banchieri | Giulio Cesare Croce: Festino del Giovedi Grasso (1608)

Dramatodía, Alberto Allegrezza
78:36
Tactus TC 550008

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This performance of extracts from sequences of music and texts for Carnival time by Banchieri and Croce is presented with the irony and humour essential for this celebration of the reversal of the normal order of things. Like the comedic tightrope walker whose technique must be flawless, the singers of Dramatodía adapt their singing style to a range of parody productions, but at the same time demonstrate that they can sing beautifully too. If I found this element of the CD slightly outweighed by caricature and narration, and felt occasionally that we needed a visual element to bring the programme fully to life, the more seemly performances were entertaining and enjoyable. This is one of the many musical elements in early Baroque Italy, which eventually aggregated into the first operas, and it is intriguing to hear this fine music put into something of a dramatic context. The highlight is undoubtedly Banchieri’s Contrapunto bestiale alla mente!

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

Mouton: Missa Faulte d’argent & Motets

The Brabant Ensenble, conducted by Stephen Rice
72:53
Hyperion CDA68385

Proclaiming Jean Mouton as one of the finest Franco-Flemish composers in the musical era between Josquin and Palestrina – which he is – does not make him outstanding. It merely renders him equal with a substantial number of similarly fine composers from that era who have enriched the canon of sacred vocal music with their works. Thanks to advances in scholarship and in performance practices, we can now also appreciate the intense distinctiveness of each of these composers, and that same singularity in each of their compositions. This second recording of Mouton’s music by The Brabant Ensemble (following CDA67933; acclaim also for The Tallis Scholars with another Mass and motets on CDGIM 047) introduces yet more hitherto unmined riches from his oeuvre with only one brief item having been commercially recorded previously. These wonderful tracks simply roll out one after another, individually varied while combining to create a disc that is both enjoyable and at the same time rewarding, spiritually and aesthetically. Characteristics of Mouton’s personal style include judicious use of reduced scoring, often employing pairs of voices successively; passages showing the influence of faburden; and the dramatic use of dissonance, not just at cadences. All these are in the context of the finest melody and harmony imparting a sense of spaciousness and yet an uncanny knack to give the impression that more voices are singing than is actually the case: there was more than one point at which I needed to confirm that a particular work was indeed in four parts throughout and not what had begun to sound like five (at least!).

The seven motets that form the first half of this programme all exhibit the edifying and excellently wrought features mentioned above. Subsequently they all appear in the Mass, to such an extent that it emerges as one of the finest from this remarkable generation of supremely gifted – and presumably well-taught – composers. Settings of the Agnus from Josquin, culminating in those for five and (especially) four voices by Byrd composed during the early to mid 1590s, can rise to sublime levels, not only here in Mouton’s Mass, but also in so many of these Masses by so many of these composers. Meanwhile today we are blest with choirs who understand this music, not just reproducing the notes accurately, but doing so with comprehension and empathy, both for the meaning of the music and for the manner in which that music, and the knowledge of that music, can best be dispensed. The entire performance of the Missa Faulte d’argent, which forms the second half of this programme, epitomizes all that is currently best in the performing and recording of Renaissance choral music. Every note is clear. Every melodic line is audible and can be followed in each part without difficulty by the listener. Every harmonic interaction, be it in the weaving and occasional clashing of melodic lines or in homophonic passages, is perfectly weighted. Tempi and volumes are calibrated to respond sensitively to the text and to the sound made by the music itself, so that there is never bland perfection nor emotional exaggeration, and the music and its text can be expressed as rhetoric or narrative, to inform, edify and delight the listener. Mouton has done humanity an enormous favour by composing this Mass. The Brabant Ensemble has done Mouton an enormous favour by selecting this Mass, and by recording it so eloquently. And the great thing is: there is so much more of this quality of music, by composers of this quality, still waiting to be rediscovered, and so much that has already been rediscovered that is waiting to be performed and recorded. And this is besides all the works we know already by (randomly adding to names already dropped) the likes of Fevin, Phinot, Gombert, Manchicourt, Crecquillon, Clemens and a heavenly host of others. In conclusion, I should like to make a plea to The Brabant Ensemble to consider making a disc like this one, consisting of the music of Lheritier. His few commercially recorded sacred pieces are spread over several discs; these motets are superb; he was respected by Palestrina … Meanwhile we can be grateful for this second recording by The Brabant Ensemble of motets and a mass by Mouton – he has proved more than worthy of their (exceptional) further attention.

Richard Turbet

Categories
Sheet music

Nathaniel Giles: English Sacred Music

Early English Church Music [volume] 63
ISBN 978 0 85249 965 8 | ISMN 979 0 2202 2643 4 (Hardback)
xxx, 130pp. £70
Stainer & Bell

This second volume dedicated to the few surviving works of Nathaniel Giles (1558?–1634) contains service music. While presenting an edition of the First Service is straightforward, the Second Service can only be reconstructed from the surviving sources to within a certain degree of completeness and the editor Joseph Sargent has had to put his creative hat on for passages where the solo parts are not available, and the Short Service is very fragmentary indeed but both Sargent and the series editor, David Skinner, recommend their contrapuntal possibilities to would-be reconstructionists. After a detailed biography of the composer, Sargent surveys the sources and lays out his editorial approach. Then come detailed descriptions of the sources and a meticulous editorial commentary on the three services. Then to the music itself, laid out on pages larger than A4 size that can accommodate the up to ten voices (two five-part choirs – cantoris and decani, according to Anglican tradition) and the organ part(s). I had to do some brain juggling when systems were compressed and a voice from the lower group appeared in the middle of the combined groups, but generally the approach works. The added parts are printed in smaller notation. The paper is slightly shiny – I did not find that a problem but I have heard others complain about using such paper for music because it can sometimes catch light awkwardly and become difficult to read. I hope more than anything else that this marvellous tome (at another bargain price of only £70!) will encourage performances of the music – it very much deserves to be heard!

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

Marc’Antonio Ingegneri: Volume Two: Missa Voce mea a5

Choir of Girton College, Cambridge; Historic Brass of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama led by Jeremy West, directed by Gareth Wilson
62:44
Toccata Classica TOCC 0630

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My review of volume 1 (TOCC 0556) was posted on 12 April 2020. Those who enjoyed the recording will be pleased to know that Gareth Wilson adheres to much the same format in this second helping of Ingegneri. This time the Historic Brass does not embrace the Guildhall School of Music and Drama beside the Royal Welsh, and he includes the motet on which Ingegneri’s mass is based. The composer seems to have assumed that he was paying tribute to his teacher Cipriano de Rore, to whom this motet had become attributed even as early as the sixteenth century, but seemingly it is the work of the less distinguished but worthy Paolo Animuccia, whose brother Giovanni has a higher profile. Paolo’s motet Voce mea is nowhere near as fine a work as Palestrina’s Laudate pueri and it is surprising that the latter is not included on volume one as a prelude to Ingegneri’s mass which is based upon it. Although the ways in which Ingegneri uses Animuccia’s motet are audible and interesting, the inferior material renders this mass (which is in only five parts) less gripping than his Missa Laudate pueri (which is in eight parts) from volume 1. That said, there is a sumptuously beautiful passage built on suspensions which emphasize the profundity of the emotional appeal “miserere nobis” in the Gloria. The majority of the intervening motets are set to texts familiar from the works of significant contemporary composers, and it is interesting to compare Ingegneri’s creative responses to theirs.

Like its predecessor, this recording comes with a detailed booklet containing two impressive and readable essays. Carlos Rodriguez Otero, who sings tenor on this disc, tells us about “Ingegneri in focus: sacred music and religious life in Cremona”, while Gareth Wilson’s article “Ingegneri against the odds” is an enthralling account of how the challenges and obstacles thrown up by the pandemic were overcome in the making of this recording. For this reason alone it is worth supporting the disc.

Perhaps because of the circumstances under which the music was recorded, the Girton Choir sounds different –but not worse – on this album, with more of an edge to the tone, especially in the upper parts. This is by no means detrimental to Ingegneri’s music. As before Historic Brass have an equal role, playing some motets by themselves, or taking over sections of certain pieces, such as the second Agnus in the mass, or simply playing some parts while members of the Choir sing the others. There are also some gung-ho full passages such as the amens concluding the Gloria and Credo. Listeners will either like or dislike this approach, and will relish the variety of sounds or be annoyed by the switches of timbre. Or they will simply take it as it comes.

Richard Turbet

Categories
Festival-conference

Les Traversées 2022

If you happen to be anywhere near the Abbaye Noirlac in central France on any Saturday between 18 June and 16 July 2022, be sure to check out this festival schedule: Les Traversées 2022 – with three events on each date and the option to include a picnic in your ticket price, this sounds like a marvellous way to spend a summer’s evening. Highlights for early music fans will be Aliotti’s “Il Trionfo Della Morte” on 25 June, and a St John Passion by Les Surprises on 16 July.

Categories
Recording

Ou beau chastel

Leuven Chansonnier vol. 2
Sollazzo Ensemble
53:50
passacaille AMY059 | PAS 1109

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The Sollazzo Ensemble return to the Leuven Chansonnier for a second selection from the 62 works it records. Alongside the established composers (Ockeghem, Caron, Frye, Morton, and Busnoys), there is anonymous music which has not been found in any other source, and which supplies the title for their CD. The Ensemble provides convincing and musically engaging accounts of this important music, although just occasionally I felt that some of the songs were a little over-interpreted, with some unidiomatic vocal swooping and portamenti. This is living music, and performers who are undeniably very familiar with the repertoire must be permitted to interpret it meaningfully, but I felt that some of the mannerisms in the vocal contribution sounded disconcertingly out of period. That aside, these are bold and effective interpretations, and it is good to report that the ‘new’ anonymous material is every bit as fine as the established, ‘named’ music – but for the whim of the copyist, we might be adding to the output of one of the familiar masters here, or perhaps more intriguingly even adding to the panoply of the masters of the period. I found it particularly exciting to hear a very persuasive account of Walter Frye’s ubiquitous three-part setting of Ave Regina performed by voices and wind instruments – the performances in the 1980s (by, amongst others, René Clemencic) of the music of this period combining wind instruments and voices were often dismissed as eccentric at the time, but with the welcome challenging of the ‘a cappella orthodoxy’ may prove to have been a perfectly viable and plausible performance option. 

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

Mirabilia Musica

Echoes from late medieval Cracow
La Morra
61:05
Ramée RAM 2008

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In a fascinating programme note, La Morra’s director Michal Gondko draws attention to an account of around 1470 by Filippo Buonaccorsi (aka Callimachus) of music in Cracow, at that time the capital of Poland, as well as the two seminal manuscripts from which the music on this CD is extracted. The major discovery is the composer Mikołaj Radomski (fl c1425), who contributes an impressive polyphonic Gloria and a Magnificat, and who may also be ‘Nicolaus’, the composer of keyboard pieces and whose Nitor inclite is performed here. Also impressive is music by Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudenz, given a stunning performance, as well a strikingly original Gloria by Antonio Zacara da Teramo. The singing and playing of La Morra is of a very high order throughout, and they give very persuasive performances of this unusual repertoire. It can scarcely come as a surprise that an important kingdom such as Poland would at this time have boasted a thriving musical culture, but it is exciting to have this confirmed in these excellent performances of superb music from the period, which was either composed in Cracow or certainly performed in it. 

D. James Ross