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"O gente brunette - Renaissance singer-composers of Picardy"

Dir: Paolo Da Col

rec: Jan 2008, Florence, Chiesa S Lucia al Galluzzo
Ramée - RAM 0902 (© 2009) (64'52")

Antoine BRUHIER (?-after 1521): Ecce panis angelorum a 4; Thomas CHAMPION dit MITHOU (?-after 1579): O gente brunette a 4; Loyset COMPÈRE (c1445-1518): O genetrix gloriosa a 4; Omnium bonorum plena a 4; Virgo caelesti a 5; Nicolas DE MARLE (fl 1544-1568): Missa O gente brunette a 4; Jean MOUTON (c1459-1522): Ave Maria ... virgo serena a 5; Nesciens mater a 8; Mathieu SOHIER (?-c1500): Ave regina coelorum a 4; Salve Regina a 4

Alessandro Carmignani, Raoul Le Chenadec, Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, Renzo Bez, alto; Fabio Furnari, Paolo Fanciullacci, Vincenzo Di Donato, tenor; Marco Scavazza, baritone; Giovanni Dagnino, Enrico Bava, Marcello Vargetto, bass

Between around 1400 and the mid-16th century the European music scene was dominated by composers of the so-called 'Franco-Flemish school'. The number of composers who were working at the many courts and cathedrals was so large that only the top of the iceberg is still generally known. It could well be that a considerable number of franco-flemish masters have remained under the radar of modern performance practice. This disc brings music by some composers to whom this applies. The programme concentrates on the musical landscape of Picardie, which was part of the Burgundian Low Countries.

The most famous masters from this area are also represented: Loyset Compère and Jean Mouton. Compère was at the service of the French court during most of his career. He is represented here with three motets. The longest is Omnium bonorum plena, which is a so-called musicians' motet as the names of some of the most celebrated composers of that time are mentioned in the text. According to David Fiala in his liner-notes "it is very probable that Omnium bonorum plena was performed at Cambrai in homage to the local master Guillaume Du Fay, here referred to as 'moon of all music and singers' light', shortly before his death in 1474, perhaps in 1472, and in the presence of thirteen singers named in the second verse - or rather, by them, mentioned in the poem as 'those who are singing'". Among them are well-known composers like Johannes Ockeghem and Antoine Busnois, but also lesser-known masters, like Guillaume Faugues and Firminus Caron. One of them, a certain Corbet or Courbet, couldn't been identified as yet. O genitrix gloriosa is notable because in several passages the four voices are split into two higher and two lower voices.

The other composer of fame is Jean Mouton, who was admired all over Europe, and belonged to the favourite composers of Pope Leo X. The monumental 8-part motet Nesciens mater is part of the Medici Codex which contains some of the music which was performed at the papal court during Leo's reign. Mouton worked in the church of Notre Dame in Nesle, in Amiens Cathedral and in Grenoble. The last part of his career he worked at the French court, until 1518, when he returned to Picardie, where he had been born. Nesciens mater may be a spectacular piece because of its quadruple canon, his Ave Maria which closes this disc is equally impressive in its simplicity and transparency.

The other composers belong to the echelon of masters who so far have largely escaped the attention of modern music practice. Mathieu Sohier was from Noyon and obtained the important post of master of the children at Notre Dame in Paris. He worked here from 1533 to 1548, and then returned to Noyon. Antoine Bruhier was also from Noyon, and like Sohier he rose to fame as he became one of the singers in the papal chapel under Leo X. Ecce panis angelorum begins with a strong statement of the first two words, followed by a pause - an impressive display of musical rhetorics.

Lastly Nicolas de Marle, who is represented here with one of his masses. Next to nothing about his life is known. The title page of the Missa O gente brunette describes him as choirmaster of Noyon Cathedral. The remarkable thing about this mass is that its cantus firmus is based on a chanson. This use of secular models was forbidden by the Council of Trent in 1562, whereas this mass was printed in 1568. This seems to indicate that at least some ecclesiastical authorities turned a blind eye to this practice. The chanson O gente brunette precedes the mass. It was written by Thomas Champion dit Mithou, who at the end of his life was at the service of the court. It should be noted that his grandson was the harpsichord composer Jacques Champion de Chambonnières.

There are various reasons why this disc is highly recommendable. Firstly, the programme comprises largely little-known repertoire, most of which is probably recorded here for the first time. This way this disc gives a fascinating survey of the rich musical culture in a part of the region where the representatives of the Franco-Flemish school came from. It also shows the variety of the compositions which were created in a relatively short span of time.
Secondly, the performances are of high quality from beginning to end. Most pieces are performed with more than one voice per part. The main exception is Compère's motet Omnium bonorum plena - the liner-notes don't give any reason for that. The chanson is also sung with one voice per part, and the acoustic is a bit more intimate which makes perfect sense.
Lastly, the documentation is outstanding: David Fiala's liner-notes give all relevant information about the composers and the music, and also puts them into a historical perspective. The lyrics are included, with translations in English, French and German. The recording also leaves nothing to be desired.
The only matter of criticism is the Italian pronunciation of Latin. Some pieces may have been written in Italy, but that is not the case with, for instance, De Marle's mass. Here the French pronunciation would have been more appropriate.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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