Vox dilecti mei: Renaissance songs of love

Vox dilecti mei – Renaissance songs of love
Hans-Jurg Meier – wingert in der frühe

The Modena ConsortUlrike HofbauerKeren Motseri
Pan Classics PC 10289. 64’32

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This recording by The Moderna Consort has only just come my way, but is well worth a belated review. I first heard soprano Ulrike Hofbauer when ensemble savādi won the 2003 Early Music Network International Young Artists’ Competition. She was singing with soprano Kristine Jaunalksne and harpist Marie Bournisien. I was struck then by the purity and clarity of her voice, and that of Kristine Jaunalksne. This CD was recorded in 2012 by Radio SRF 2 and released in 2013. It documents a recital programme that combined contemporary music by the Swiss composer Hans-Jurg Meier with Renaissance music from the likes of Josquin, Brumel, Isaac, Senfl, di Lasso, and Palestrina, all inspired by the curious Biblical Song of Songs, the collection of obviously erotic texts that religious commentators over the centuries have struggled to imbue with any spiritual and religious meaning.

As with their concert performances, the music flows from piece to piece, notably with the subtle segues between the ancient and modern pieces. Hans-Jurg Meier’s wingert in der frühe (vineyard in the morning) is a six-movement suite, the structure of which is based on the architectural design of the church of Santa Maria Formosa in Venice. Each movement represents a particular part of the building, from the arrival from the canal at the west entrance, walking across the cardinal points of the church and resting in the aisles, apses and under the dome. A plan and section of the 1492 building are shown in the notes. The piece was written for the forces of The Moderna Consort, four Renaissance transverse flutes, lute and soprano. It is a fascinating work, generally gently evocative in style, but with a burst of energy at the start of IV minneHortus Conclusus to ‘awake the south wind’. 

For this recording, the Moderna Consort is joined by soprano Keren Motseri for the Meier pieces. She also joins Ulrike Hofbauer in two Palestrina pieces, the title piece Vox dilecti mei and the concluding Pulchra es amica mea. It is interesting to compare the two singers. Ulrike Hofbauer has what is, to me at least, a perfect ‘early music’ voice. She combines a focussed and pure tone, perfect intonation, and most importantly, the merest, and only occasional, hint of any sense of vibrato. Not an operatic vibrato by any means, but just a hint of the natural vibrations of vocal tone, here used as a vocal ornament. Keren Motseri has a more ‘modern’ voice, with a noticeable, but far from excessive vibrato, and a vocal style that suits the contemporary piece well. The overall effect of the delightful sound of the soprano voices, four Renaissance traversos, and lute, in various combinations, is absolutely magical. Both singers seem to blend seamlessly with the sound of the flutes. There are a number of lute solos, playing sensitively by René Genis.

Although it is not mentioned in the CD notes, the transverse flutes used by The Moderna Consort are made by Boaz Berney, one of the players in the Consort. I spotted the CD on his instrument display at an early music exhibition, so he deserves a mention. His website acknowledges that The Moderna Consort is a help in experimenting with the music and the instruments.