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Dufay: "Cathedral sounds - Magnificat, Hymni, Motetti"

Clemencic Consort
Dir: René Clemencic
rec: Nov./Dec. 2001, Vienna, W*A*R* Tonstudio
Arte Nova - 74321 92584 2 (59'52")

anon (Buxheimer Orgelbuch): Franckurgenti; Modocomor; Parleregart; Portigaler; Se la phase pale; Se le fatze ay pale; Dufay: Ave maris stella; Conditor alme siderum; Credo; Flos florum; Fulgens iubar/Puerpera pura; Gaude virgo, mater Christi; Gloria; Laetabundus exsultet fidelis chorus; Magnificat

Bernhard Landauer (alto), James Curry, Bernd Lambauer (tenor), Doron Sherwin (cornet), René Clemencic (organ)

René Clemencic has made a number of recordings of sacred works from the renaissance in the 1970's and 80's. One of the features of these recordings was the abundant use of instruments, in particular loud wind instruments, and even percussion. Sometimes this practice came close to a kind of 'orchestration'. In comparison this recording is pretty sober: only the organ and the cornet are used. But Clemencic still uses them in a sometimes strange way. But then, in many ways this is a strange recording.
First of all, on the basis of this performance one would almost think this music contains bars. It doesn't, of course, therefore it is kind of strange that the singing is so strict rhythmically. I would prefer a more free flowing performance from the singers.
Secondly, some strange decisions have been taken regarding performance practice. From the earliest days of Christian liturgy it was quite usual to sing 'alternatim': the verses were alternately sung by two choirs. In time, one of the choirs was replaced by the organ sometimes. So the decision to perform the Magnificat this way is historically justifiable. But the way it is actually done here isn't. Historically the verses were performed in turns: all the even verses were sung, the uneven played, or vice versa. But here the choice which verse to sing and which to play is completely arbitrary, without any pattern.
One could argue that the organ could be used to play 'colla parte' with the singers, but here it is even used to play like a kind of bourdon in plainchant sections. It is as if the old days are back, when plainchant was accompanied by the organ.
René Clemencic himself plays the pieces from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch. His playing is pretty stiff, just like the vocal works are sung. These pieces should be performed as if they are improvised. But even worse is the decision to use the cornet to play the upper part in some pieces. It undermines the equality of all parts, since the cornet - and therefore the upper part - is dominating. As a result the pieces performed this way do sound like early baroque diminutions for solo instrument and basso continuo. They certainly can be performed as ensemble works, as long as none of the parts is taking the lead.
To sum up, as much as there is to enjoy - the music is great, the singers are really good as is Doron Sherwin on the cornet - this is a most unconvincing interpretation.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

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