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Orlandus LASSUS (1532 - 1594): Sacred and secular works

[I] "Biographie musicale vol. IV"
Dir: Paolo Da Col
rec: April 2014, Belluna, Chiesa di S. Pietro
Musique en Wallonie - MEW 1474 (© 2014) (73'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/N
Cover, track-list & booklet

Orlandus LASSUS: Al gran Guglielmo nostro a 5 [10]; Arse la fiamma a 4 [11]; Canzon la doglia e 'l pianto a 4 [12]; Cum essem parvulus a 6 [9]; De l'eterne tue sante a 5 [11]; Dixit Joseph a 6; Hélas j'ai sans merci a 5 [10]; Hilff lieber Herr a 3 [13]; Memento peccati tui a 5 [16]; Missa super Dixit Joseph a 6; Musica Dei donum optimi a 6 [15]; O fugace dolcezza a 5 [10]; Tragico tecti syrmate coelites a 5 [16]; Tutto'l dì mi dici a 4 [8]; Vidimus stellam ejus a 6 [7]; Von Gott wil ich nit lassen a 6 [14]; Wir haben Herr a 3 [13]; Rudolph LASSUS (c1563-1625): Urtheil mich Herr a 3 [13]

Andrea Arrivabene, Renzo Bez, Alessandro Carmignani, Gianluigi Giringhelli, Gabriel Jublin, alto; Alberto Allegrezza, Mauro Collina, Vincenzo Di Donato, Paolo Fanciullacci, Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Marco Scavazza, baritone; Enrico Bava, Giovanni Dagnino, Marcello Vargetto, bass
with: Elisabetta de Mircovich, soprano

[II] "Missa super Dixit Joseph & motets"
rec: August 2 - 4, 2013, Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel (AU)
Hyperion - CDA68064 (© 2015) (66'26")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Confitemini Domino a 6 [6]; Deus canticum novum a 5 [3]; Deus qui sedes super thronum a 5 [1]; Dixit Joseph a 6; Fallax gratia a 4 [5]; In me transierunt irae tuae a 5 [1]; Missa super Dixit Joseph a 6; O mors quam amara est memoria tua a 6 [2]; Si bona suscepimus a 5 [4]; Timor et tremor a 6; Veni dilecte mi a 5 [4]

Terry Wey, Jakob Huppmann, alto; Tore Tom Denys, Achim Schulz, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Ulfried Staber, bass
with: Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, tenor

Sources: [1] Sacrae cantiones, 1562; [2] Primus liber concentuum sacrorum, 1564; [3] Perornatae sacrae cantiones ... liber secundus, 1565; [4] Moduli nunquam hactenus editi, 1571; [5] 6 cantiones latinae, adiuncto dialogo, 6 teutsche Lieder ..., 1573; [6] Patrocinium musices ... cantionum ... prima pars, 1573; [7] Patrocinium musices ... officia aliquot, de praecipuis festis anni ... tertia pars, 1574; [8] Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altre canzoni, 1581; [9] Mottetta typis nondum uspiam excusa, 1582; [10] Continuation du mellange, 1584; [11] Madrigali novamente composti, 1585; [12] Madrigali novamente composti, 1587; [13] Teutsche Psalmen: geistliche Psalmen, 1588; [14] Neue teutsche, und etliche frantzösische Gesäng, 1590; [15] Cantiones sacrae, 1594; [16] Cantiones ab Orlando di Lasso et huius filio Ferdinando di Lasso compositae, 1597


Orlandus Lassus was one of the most productive composers of the 16th century and certainly the most versatile. He contributed to any genre in his time and wrote music on texts in many languages. He was also the most popular composer: more than 470 prints of his music have survived, and his influence lasted well into the 17th century. In the 19th century Carl Proske, a priest and musician, laid the foundation of what was to become the first complete edition of his works. These are still often performed in our time, although not that many of his compositions are really well-known. Among the most frequently-performed are the Lagrime di San Pietro, his Psalmi Poenitentiales as well as some motets and chansons. The fact that his oeuvre is so huge is a good argument in favour of the series of recordings which Musique en Wallonie started to release some years ago. Under the title of Biographie musicale (Musical biography) these discs present a cross-section of his output in various genres in chronological order, following his career which found its culmination in his position as Kapellmeister at the Bavarian court in Munich.

The fourth instalment covers the last stage of that career which begins in 1579 when his patron Albrecht V died. He was succeeded by his son as Wilhelm V. With him Lassus had a cordial relationship as is attested by letters from Lassus to the prince which have survived. But when Wilhelm took over his father's position the relationship cooled off, probably because of the burden of his job and - as is suggested in the liner-notes - under the influence of the Jesuits who actively promoted the Counter-Reformation. Lassus' productivity did not suffer from it as the programme indicates: it includes sacred and secular pieces from a large variety of sources which appeared until the very end of his life. After his death in 1594 his sons continued to publish his works.

The main work in the programme is the Missa super Dixit Joseph; that is a rather odd choice as it dates from before the period covered by this disc. It is even more unfortunate as at about the same time Hyperion released a recording of the same mass with the ensemble Cinquecento. Paolo Da Col probably wasn't aware of that as this recording was made before the Hyperion disc came from the press. Even so, it would have been preferable if another mass had been taken, for instance Lassus's last, the Missa Triste départ, based on a motet by Gombert. In the Missa super Dixit Joseph Lassus takes his own motet of that title as the starting point. It is about the episode from the book of Genesis in which Joseph - viceroy of Egypt - reveals his identity to his brothers and his father Jacob decides to travel to Egypt to see his lost son. The opening motif of the motet returns at the opening of most of the sections of the mass. Several textual elements are singled out, and the mass includes some passages for reduced voices.

This six-part mass - with a seventh part in the Agnus Dei - is performed by Odhecaton with 14 voices. Cinquecento, on the other hand, opted for a performance with one voice per part. It is hard to say what comes closer to the historical truth. It is documented that the chapel in Munich was larger than almost any other musical establishment in Europe and included a considerable number of instruments. But that does tell us very little about the actual performance of a specific work. It is unlikely that the whole ensemble always participated in performances. Odhecaton's line-up may be more in accordance with the performing conditions in Munich than Cinquecento's. On the other hand, in the latter's performance the text is more clearly understandable and that is not unimportant in Lassus's oeuvre. That is not only due to the size of the respective ensembles, it also has to do with the performance itself and the balance within the ensemble. In many of Odhecaton's recordings the alto Alessandro Carmignani is too dominant; it is not as bad in the sacred pieces here than in other recordings with a smaller line-up but it still damages the balance. And as he produces sound rather than text this also harms the delivery of the ensemble as a whole.

The rest of Odhecaton's programme is devoted to Lassus' contributions to various genres: Tutto'l dì mi dici is a moresca (originally a moorish dance), Hélas j'ai sans merci a chanson, De l'eterne tue sante one of his many madrigals. A remarkable piece is Tragico tecti syrmate coelites, a motet on a Latin ode. It was written for theatrical performances which took place at the Jesuit college in Munich and was part of their education. The programme also includes some pieces on German texts. Hilff lieber Herr and Wir haben Herr are three-part settings of Psalm texts by the theologian Kaspar Ulenberg, who was originally Lutheran but later converted to the Roman Catholic church. The disc ends appropriately with a setting of a text in praise of music and its power: Musica Dei donum optimi. The way Lassus has set the text is a confirmation of its content: "Music, the gift of the most excellent God, draws men and gods. Music softens fierce souls and brings courage to sorrowful minds. Music touches the very trees and has the power to move even wild beasts".

I am not unequivocally enthusiastic about this disc. In the mass I prefer Cinquecento and I also have the impression that secular music is not the strength of Odhecaton. I enjoyed the sacred items most and it is nice that we get here a number of pieces which are hardly known. The liner-notes give much information about Lassus' career in its latest stage and the connection between notes and music is most helpful. If you have the previous volumes in your collection you shouldn't miss this fourth volume.

Cinquecento has added some very beautiful motets to its recording of the Missa super Dixit Joseph. Several pieces betray Lassus' preference for a close connection between text and music. In Confitemini Domino he effectively sets the words "laudate eum" (praise him) for the tutti in homophony. O mors, quam amara est is in two parts. The first includes some quite unsettling harmonies to depict the opening phrase: "O death, how bitter is remembrance of you". The second part opens with "O death, your sentence is good for a man in want" and here the tone is very different. The words "toil" and "misery" in Deus, qui sedes super thronum receive an expressive treatment. Timor et tremor is one of Lassus' best-known motets, and that is not without a reason. It is an impressive demonstration of Lassus' skills in the setting of a text.

These features all come across in an impressive way in the performances by Cinquecento. It comprises six outstanding voices which blend perfectly. Here the balance is just right and that is partly due to the fact that the voices of the two altos are smoother and less dominant than that of the above-mentioned Carmignani. The ensemble pays much attention to the text and as a result the connection between text and music comes across to maximum effect. This disc demonstrates that Cinquecento is one of the best ensembles for sacred music of the renaissance right now.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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