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"Music for Milan Cathedral"

Siglo de Oro
Dir: Patrick Allies

rec: April 22 - 24, 2019, Oxford, Chapel of Merton College
Delphian Records - DCD34224 (© 2019) (66'28")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Franchinus GAFFURIUS (1451-1522): O sacrum convivium; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450-1521): Alma redemptoris mater/Ave regina coelorum; Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria; Dominique PHINOT (c1510-c1556): Homo quidam fecit; Gaspar VAN WEERBEKE (c1445-after 1516): Ave regina coelorum, mater; Matthias Hermann WERRECORE (c1500-after 1574): Ave maris stella; Beati omnes qui timent Dominum; Inclina Deus meus; Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria; Popule meus; Proh dolor

Christine Buras, Hannah Ely, Victoria Meteyard, Helena Thomson, soprano; \ Rebekah Jones, contralto; Francis Gush, Nathan Mercieca, alto; Paul Bentley-Angell, Tom Castle, Chris Fitzgerald-Lombard, tenor; David Le Prevost, Ben McKee, Ben Rowarth, bass

Milan seems to have made a relatively late appearance at the music scene in Italy. There a particular kind of chant developed, known as Ambrosian, which for many centuries coexisted with what we today use to call 'Gregorian'. However, it was only in the mid-15th century that composers of international fame came to Milan, thanks to the Sforza family, which started to rule the city in 1450. The first ruler was Francesco I, but it was in particular under his son, Galeazzo Maria, that Milan entered a period which can be considered a kind of 'golden age'.

Among the composers who worked in Milan at the time are Loyset Compère, Gaspar van Weerbeke, Josquin Desprez and Johannes Martini. In 2017 Arcana released a disc devoted to Compère, which includes some of the music he composed during his time in Milan. The programme includes also some pieces by Weerbeke.

The present disc brings us to a later stage in the history of Milan. The central figure is Matthias Hermann Werrecore, whose name seldom appears in the programmes of vocal ensembles or on disc. This was one of the main reasons for Patrick Allies to focus on his oeuvre. The little attention he receives is reflected by the article on him in New Grove, which consists of just eight lines. It is assumed that he was of Flemish origin - as so many composers of the time - but there is no firm evidence of that. In 1522 he was appointed maestro di capella at Milan Cathedral. It seems that he was greatly appreciated as in 1524 Francesco II Sforza awarded him a canonicate and in 1542 he received an increase in salary. Werrecore also enjoyed the protection of Alfonso d'Avalos, who from 1538 was governor of Milan. When he died in 1546, Werrecore composed two motets for his funeral obsequies. It is not known where Werrecore died; his duties seems to have come to a halt in the 1550s, when he was succeeded by others.

Werrecore's oeuvre is not very large. Apart from some secular pieces, it comprises about 30 motets. Six of them are included here. It is notable that one of them, Beati omnes qui timent Dominum, a setting of Psalm 127 (128), is also attributed to Thomas Stoltzer. The booklet claims that the motets by Werrecore are all recorded here for the first time, but that does not include this particular motet, which has been recorded several times as a work by Stoltzer.

The programme includes two large-scale motets, which in this performance last over ten minutes. Popule meus is a motet for the Good Friday liturgy of the Adoration of the Cross. It comprises five sections, the first, second and fifth are for five voices, the third for three and the fourth is in four parts. The writing for reduced forces is one of the hallmarks of the Franco-Flemish school. In the last section Werrecore adds a chant as cantus firmus. In his setting of Ave maris stella, the plainsong hymn is the core of all the seven verses, used in different ways. The third and fourth verses are again for reduced forces, but in each of the last two Werrecore adds a voice. As a result, the last verse is for seven voices, a symbolic number.

In this recording, Werrecore is put into his historical context. The inclusion of a piece by Josquin Desprez is particularly relevant, as Werrecore's music shows Josquin's influence. That is especially the case in his motet Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria, in which Werrecore seems to imitate some parts of Josquin's setting of the same text. Their respective versions embrace the entire programme. His influence on Werrecore is not the only reason Josquin is included here. He also spent some years in Milan in the 1480s, and some of his works are included in the Milan Choirbooks. One of these is Alma redemptoris mater/Ave regina coelorum. The two texts are sung simultaneously by soprano/bass and by alto/tenor respectively.

The two remaining composers are little known. Franchinus Gaffurius was Werrecore's predecessor as maestro di cappella, who had been appointed in this post in 1484. He was also an influential theorist; by 1497 he was appointed professor of music at the university which had been founded by Ludovico Sforza. O sacrum convivium is a five-part motet for Corpus Christi and includes quite some dissonances. A contemporary of his was Gaspar van Weerbeke, who worked in Milan from 1471 to 1476 - the year that Galeazzo Maria Sforza was murdered - but his ties with Milan were kept alive after that. Ave Regina coelorum mater is for five voices and includes duo passages.

In 1543 Werrecore published a book of motets, including three of his own, which he dedicated to the above-mentioned Alfonso d'Avalos; one of the motets for his funeral obsequies is Proh dolor. The choirbook also includes nine motets by Dominique Phinot, which seems to be a token of Werrecore's appreciation. It is unlikely that Phinot ever visited Milan; he rather worked in Urbino, about 200 miles southeast of Milan. Homo quidam fecit is a motet for Corpus Christi.

The recording of music which is hardly known, and partly by composers who seldom appear on disc or on concert programmes, cannot be appreciated enough. From that angle this disc deserves a strong recommendation to everyone who has a special interest in renaissance polyphony. It also documents a part of music life, which receives not that much attention. It is also very useful that Werrecore is put here in his historical context, supported by informative liner-notes.

Siglo de Oro is a very fine ensemble which sings this programme with strong commitment. At its largest it comprises thirteen voices, but it produces a beautiful transparent sound. Only in the passages for reduced forces I noticed a slight vibrato in some of the voices. Overall, they blend very well. This disc is an excellent case for a forgotten master, who here receives the attention he deserves.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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