Contrapunctus: Salve, Salve, Salve

Salve, Salve, Salve
Josquin’s Spanish Legacy
Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
Signum SIGCD608. 71’02

Cristóbal de Morales: Jubilate Deo omnis terra
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Missa Gaudeamus, Salve regina
Francisco Guerrero:Ave virgo sanctissima, Surge propera, amica mea
Josquin Desprez: Salve regina

Some of the most interesting recordings and performances of early music in the UK over the past decades has come from (generally Oxbridge) scholars whose academic research interests led them into (or kept them in) academia, many achieving high academic office. One such is Owen Rees, like many such, a former Oxbridge organ scholar. He is now Professor of Music at Oxford University and Fellow and Director of Music at The Queen’s College. His research interests are Iberian and English vocal music of the Renaissance, and his professional vocal group Contrapunctus allows this research to be presented to a wider musical audience. Their latest recording explores the influence of Josquin Desprez on Morales, Guerrero, and Victoria, the rather disparate composers united by their use of ostinato (the repetition of a motif throughout a piece), a technique inspired by Josquin.

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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.

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Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)
Keyboard music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti, Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics, BRI95556. 74’25

Little is known about Johannes (or Joannis, Jan) de Lublin (or ‘z Lublina’) was a Polish organist and composer. He was a Canon of the monastery in Kraśnik, near Lublin and seems to have graduated from the University of Kraków and remained there as organist in the Marian Church. He moved to Kraśnik, near Lublin sometime before 1540, when the Tabvlatvra Ioannis de Lyvblyn Canonic. Reglariv de Crasnyk was bound. The music in the collection was gathered over some years, an contains a wide range of music, both sacred and secular. It was intended as a primer for organists, and contains important information about organ tuning and the principals of composing a piece around a plainchant melody, something all organists were expected to do. It is the largest known organ tablature with more than 350 compositions and a theoretical treatise. It follows in the tradition of earlier examples such as the Faenza Codex and the Buxheimer Organ Book from the previous century. Continue reading

Antoine de Févin

Antoine de Févin
Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68265. 79’14

Missa Ave Maria, Ascendens Christus in altum, Sancta Trinitas a5/a6,
Salve sancta parens, Missa Salve sancta parens,

Antoine de Févin (c1470-1511/12) is a relatively unknown composer of the Renaissance Franco-Flemish period He was born around 20 years after Josquin des Prez, but died about 10 years before him. For the past few years of his life, he worked in the Chapelle Royale of Louis XII of France, who apparently thought highly several chansons. His compositional style is similar to Josquin’s, who he admired. The opening Missa Ave Maria is based on Josquin’s well-known Ave Maria. His contrapuntal writing is not as strict as some of his Renaissance contemporaries. He clearly enjoys contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal passages and freely switches from one to the other. There are several magical moments, one of the finest between the Agnus II of the Missa Ave Maria where two outstanding high voices (Kate Ashby and Claire Eadington) weaves threads between themselves. Continue reading

Secret History

John Potter: Secret History
Josquin/Victoria

ECM New Series ECM2119

It’s been a while since the names of John Potter and ECM have been linked in an ‘early music’ recording, the last being back in Potter’s Hilliard Ensemble days. This recording was made in 2011, and was the first time this group of musicians had got together. It pre-dates their later recording Amores Pasados published in 2015. The result is a radical re-think of Renaissance music performance, not least in reducing complex polyphony to just one or two vocal lines, sung by John Potter and Anna Maria Friman, the remaining voices being played on vihuelas (an early form of guitar, tuned like a lute) by Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Haringman, and Lee Santana. In the opening eight-part Mouton Nesciens mater for example, they sing the two paired superius lines, in the form of a canon at the fifth, very occasionally switching to one of the other six voices. The three vihuelas play the remaining pairs of voices, which are all also in the same strict canonic form. An extraordinary feat of contrapuntal writing, reduced to comparative simplicity.  Continue reading

Renaissance Singers: A Flemish Christmas

A Flemish Christmas
Shepherds, what have you seen?

Renaissance Singers, David Allinson
St George’s Bloomsbury. 17 December 2016

Music by Clemens non Papa, Josquin, Verdelot, Gombert and Willaert.

WP_20161217_18_59_25_Pro.jpgThe Renaissance Singers have a history that goes back to 1944. They played an important part in the revival of interest in Renaissance sacred polyphony as the early music movement grew and developed. Their 2017 Christmas concert, in the architecturally important Hawksmoor church of St George’s Bloomsbury, sensibly avoided carols and concentrated on what they do best: singing Renaissance music. Under the inspired direction of their musical director, David Allinson, they presented a programme of seasonal music centered on the composer Clemens non Papa and his Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis, together with music by Josquin, Verdelot, Gombert and Willaert.

The excellent and comprehensive programme notes (by choir member Tony Damer) explained the background of the concert, including an interesting explanation for Clemens’ enigmatic nickname non Papa (‘not the Pope’) as meaning something akin to ‘not an Angel’. He was certainly a very naughty boy, described in one (not surprisingly, unsuccessful) employment reference as being ‘a drunk Continue reading

Josquin Masses: Di dadi – Une mousse de Biscaye

Josquin Masses: Di dadi – Une mousse de Biscaye
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM 048. 71’13

The Tallis Scholars add to their list of ten CDs of Josquin Masses with this recording of two fascinating, if slightly curious examples. Neither of them are definitively acknowledged to be by Josquin. But if they are, as Peter Phillips argues in his programme note, they are likely to be early works, the Missa Di dadi perhaps being a precursor of the later Missa Pange lingua. And they are both fascinating pieces, not just for the music but for the background to their composition. As their titles suggest they involve gambling, the throw of the dice, and the seduction of a young lady from Biscay.

The Missa Di dadi (the ‘Mass of the Dice’) only survives in one source, Petrucci’s Missarum Josquin liber tertius of 1514. It uses as its cantus firmus the tenor line from Robert Morton’s rondeau N’aray je jamais mieulx. Each Continue reading

Magnificat: Scattered Ashes

Scattered Ashes
Josquin’s Miserere and the Savonarolan Legacy
Magnificat, Philip Cave
Linn CKD517. 2 CDs. 84’00.

Josquin des Prez: Miserere mei, Deus; Palestrina; Tribularer, si nescirem; Le Jeune; Tristitia obsedit me; Lassus: Infelix ego; Lhéritier: Miserere mei, Domine;  Gombert: In te, Domine, speravi; Clemens non Papa: Tristitia obsedit me; Byrd: Infelix ego.

Magnificat vocal ensemble celebrate their 25th anniversary with this CD of extraordinarily powerful large-scale polyphonic works by Renaissance masters, all influenced by the equally extraordinary Italian Dominican friar and prophet, Girolamo Savonarola. His rather alarming prophesies (including declaring Florence to be the ‘New Jerusalem’, the destruction of all things secular, and a biblical flood), his denouncement of the Medicis, clerical corruption, and the exploitation of the poor, together with his extreme puritanical views (resulting in the Bonfire of the Vanities) led, not surprisingly, to his getting himself caught up in Italian and Papal politics.

The Duke of Ferrara, of the Ferrara d’Este family, was a supporter of Savonarola. After his execution, the Duke asked his newly appointed composer, Continue reading