Music for Milan Cathedral

Music for Milan Cathedral
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
Delphian DCD34224. 66’26

Rather sensibly, Siglo de Oro has called this recording Music for Milan Cathedral, rather than The Motets of Hermann Matthias Werrecore which, in effect, is what it is. Werrecore (c1500->1574) is an almost totally unknown composer who became maestro di cappella of Milan Cathedral in 1522 and stayed until 1550. Confusion with another composer with a similar name didn’t help him become better known, nor did the prominence of other composers connected with Milan, including one of Werrecore’s predecessors, Josquin des Prez (c1450-1521). This excellent recording by Siglo de Oro is a well-deserved attempt to revive interest in this fascinating composer whose music, by the standards on this recording, is well worth exploring.

As well as six impressive motets by Werrecore, there are as two pieces by Josquin and two other Milan composers of Josquin’s generation are included, Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522) and Gaspar van Weerbeke (c1445-after 1516), along with a contemporary of Werrecore, Dominique Phinot (c1510-c1556). Phinot was not, as far as I can see, connected with Milan, although his music does appear in a 1543 book of motets alongside several by Werrecore. The choice of Phinot’s Homo quidam fecit to represent him is perhaps a little unfortunate, given that he was executed for homosexual activity in 1556. The six motets by Werrecore himself are all world recording premieres – and, indeed, are the first time any of his music has been recorded. They reveal him to be a composer clearly deserving of much greater exposure than he has had hitherto.

Werrecore’s pieces are taken from his own 1559 publication of 20 motets, Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria, plus motets from a book printed in 1543. He uses the title ‘motet’ rather loosely, as the pieces include Compline antiphons, Vespers hymns and Psalm settings. The two most substantial of Werrecore’s motets are Popule meus for Good Friday, lasting around 12 minutes, and his Ave maris stella at about 10 minutes. His motet Proh dolor was written for the funeral of lfonso d’Avalos, the Hapsburg-appointed Governor of Milan and seemingly something of a champion of Werrecore’s music.

The music is well constructed, with clear polyphonic lines and an impressive sense of the architecture of the longer pieces. The recording was made in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, a resonant space which gives an attractive bloom to the sound of up to 13 singers. Patrick Allies directs with a fine sensitivity to musical line and texture. It is very well recorded by the Delphian engineers. Detailed notes give the background to Werrecore, Milan Cathedral, and the complicated history of Italy at the time.