The Brabant Ensemble continue their investigation into unknown jewels of the Low Countries Renaissance, researched by their director Stephen Rice and recorded with equal amounts of passion and erudition by the young singers of the group. Cipriano de Rore was and is principally known as a madrigal composer, and, as Stephen Rice writes, ‘blended the contrapuntal complexity of Low Countries polyphonic style with Italian poetic texts to create a newly expressive vernacular genre’. This recording represents something of a new departure in presenting some of the least well-known aspects of the output of a composer who is justly famous in other fields.
Franco-Flemish composer Pierre de la Rue contributed prolifically to the rich musical life of the Low Countries during the late fifteenth century. If today he is less well-known than some of his contemporaries, the distinguished advocacy of Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble remedies the balance with these authoritative performances of the Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor, Salve regina VI and Missa Inviolata. Pierre de la Rue is another of those composers who contributed so prolifically to the richness of musical life in the Low Countries during the late fifteenth century. If today he is less well known than some of his contemporaries, the distinguished advocacy of Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble should do much to redress the balance.
Orlande de Lassus was an undisputed master of all the vocal genres of the late Renaissance, from German Lied to Latin Mass. He was extraordinarily prolific, and this recording features the glorious polyphony of the Missa Amor ecco colei and Prophetiae Sibyllarum, one of his most celebrated works. With the latter’s extreme chromaticism and constant modulation, Lassus stretched the compositional boundaries of the time to produce one of the most important and advanced works to come from the sixteenth century.
The Brabant Ensemble, better known for uncovering works by forgotten composers such as Dominique de Phinot, turns to a giant of the Renaissance—perhaps the most celebrated name of the period. Yet within Palestrina’s huge output there are many hidden gems, lacking both recordings and modern performing editions, and it is from among these that the ensemble’s director Stephen Rice has chosen the repertoire for this album. A Mass—Missa Ad coenam Agni, from Palestrina’s first book of Mass-settings—is included, plus antiphons, motets and five Eastertide Offertories. Each work is, as Stephen Rice states in his typically informative booklet notes, ‘a finely crafted addition to the liturgy’.
Jean Mouton was a Renaissance French composer and choirmaster, much acknowledged but more rarely recorded, who wrote a body of music that’s both technically inventive and immediately appealing. Here Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble—renowned exponents of sixteenth-century Franco-Flemish repertoire—perform all Mouton’s eight-part music, two four-part motets, and his only five-part Mass setting, the Missa Tu es Petrus. The latter is characterized by light, clear textures and a soaring cantus firmus, while the double-choir Nesciens mater is rightly famous for its ingenious canon. Sheer compositional skill aside, all these works demonstrate Mouton’s vivid and original imagination—one that has the ability to speak directly to our time.
Sometimes a disc's title can be just a bit too clever for its own good. From a glance at this disc's cover, with its title "Le Chant de Virgile", you'd never know that it contained first class works by Josquin, Senfl, Lassus, Mouton, Willaert, and Cipriano de Rore, among others. Sure, when you read the fine print on the reverse side of the disc packaging, you discover that the program is a celebration of Renaissance works whose texts are drawn from "Virgil, Horace, and Catullus"–but why not make this clear from the outset?
In his Passion according to St. John, Rore created a masterpiece of plainchant elaboration in polyphony. Unlike other Passion settings of the period, this one sets the entire text, while carefully adhering to the Gregorian recitation tones and structures for the Passion. The syllabic declamation of the text gives a powerful "speaking" effect, while avoiding the madrigalisms Rore is better known for.