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Jean MAILLARD (fl 1538 - 1570): "Missa Je suis déshéritée & Motets"

The Marian Consort
Dir: Rory McCleery

rec: Jan 7 - 9, 2013, Oxford, Merton College (chapel)
Delphian - DCD34130 (© 2013) (70'19")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Pierre CADÉAC (fl 1538-1556) (attr): Je suis déshéritée a 4; Jean MAILLARD: Ascendo ad Patrem meum a 5; Assumpta est Maria a 6; Fratres mei elongaverunt a 6; Gaudent in caelis a 7; Hodie Maria virgo a 6; In me transierunt a 4; In pace a 6; Laudate Dominum a 5; Missa Je suis déshéritée a 4; Omnes gentes attendite a 5; Victimae paschali laudes a 5

Emma Walshe, Gwendolen Martin, soprano; Rory McCleery, alto; Ashley Turnell, Nick Pritchard, tenor; Rupert Reid, baritone; Christopher Borrett, bass

This is the first disc which is entirely dedicated to the oeuvre of Jean Maillard. This could suggest that he was what is often called a 'minor master', but that is not the case. The French printers Adrian Le Roy and Robert Ballard published three volumes of motets by Maillard and many of his masses and chansons were included in anthologies. Moreover, a considerable number of his compositions have been found in manuscript across Europe, which bears witness to the appreciation of his works. Various composers, including Palestrina, used compositions by Maillard for parody masses. However, "Jean Maillard is a figure who remains shrouded in mystery", as Rory McCleery states in his liner-notes. Very little is known about his life and activities; a contemporary mentions him as a pupil of Josquin, but there is no firm evidence of that.

There are several indications that Maillard may have had at least Protestant sympathies. That could explain that in the collections which Le Roy and Ballard printed after 1571 no music by Maillard is included. Moreover, he set several "polemically-charged" chansons spirituelles by the Huguenot poet Guillaume Guéroult and a paraphrase of Psalm 15 by Clément Marot. It has been suggested that as a result he could have even been expelled from France or been a victim of the massacres of St Bartholomew's Day in 1572. However, McCleery refers to the fact that many of his motets are on Marian texts and that some of his motets have been preserved in Spanish sources. This in itself is not that surprising: several composers with Protestant sympathies in France and in Germany also composed music for the Roman-Catholic liturgy. Moreover, it is quite possible that these motets date from before he turned to Protestantism.

Six of Maillard's masses are extant; four of them are based on pre-existing material. One of them is the Missa Je suis déshéritée, whose cantus firmus is derived from the chanson which is attributed to Jean Cadéac. The material from this chanson is clearly recognizable and more dominant than the freely-composed material. In the Agnus Dei the four parts are extended to six by splitting the highest and lowest voice. In this recording the parts of the mass are separated by motets. I find that rather unsatisfying: it makes sense when a mass is performed in a kind of liturgical setting, but that is not the case here.

In his motets there are some traces of text expression but certainly not in the form of 'madrigalisms'. McCleery refers to the characteristics of the various motets, also in regard to the connection between text and music, but in the interpretation there is too little differentiation between them. He calls Laudate Dominum "cheerful", and Hodie Maria virgo "begins with a joyful rising figure", but that hardly comes off in the performances. Because of that this disc is less interesting than one would hope.

This is not the only shortcoming. Several singers use too much vibrato; especially the wide vibrato of Nick Pritchard damages the ensemble, especially in Ascendo ad Patrem meum. The mass comes off best by far, especially because he - and Gwendolen Martin - don't participate. Another issue is the fact that the texts are often hard to understand. The text is not in the centre in this kind of music, but that is no excuse, especially in a performance with one voice per part.

This disc deserves to be welcomed because of the unfamiliarity of the repertoire. That makes it all the more regrettable that the performances leave something to be desired.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

The Marian Consort

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