musica Dei donum

CD reviews

[I] Jacob REGNART (c1540 - 1599): Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae
rec: Feb 2 - 4, 2007, Waldviertel (Austria), Kloster Pernegg
Hyperion - CDA67640 (© 2007) (60'40")

[II] Philippus DE MONTE (1521 - 1603): Missa Ultimi miei sospiri
rec: August 12 - 14, 2007, St Wolfgang bei Weitra (Austria), Wallfahrtskirche
Hyperion - CDA67658 (© 2008) (56'12")

[I] Exsultent iusti a 6; Inviolata intacta et casta es Maria; Lamentabatur Jacob a 5; Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae a 6; Quare tristis es, anima mea a 4; Quod mitis sapiens nulli virtute secundus a 6; Stella, quam viderant Magi; Stetis Jesus a 5; Ut vigilum densa silvam cingente corona a 6;
[II] Philippus DE MONTE: Ad te levavi a 5; Asperges me, Domine a 5; Fratres, ego enim accepi a 6; Gaudent in caelis animae Sanctorum a 6; Magnificat 6. toni a 4; Miserere mei, Deus a 5; Missa Ultimi miei sospiri a 6; Ne timeas, Maria a 5; Philippe VERDELOT (?-before 1552): Ultimi miei sospiri

Terry Wey, Jakob Huppmann, alto; Tore Tom Denys, Thomas Künne, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Ulfried Staber, bass

These two discs are the second and third in a series of recordings devoted to music written for the Habsburg family. The first, Music for the Court of Maximilian II, contained music by several composers who for a time worked at one of the Habsburg courts: Gallus, Lassus, Maessens and Vaet. The discs reviewed here are both completely devoted to one composer.

The first is Jacob Regnart. He was one of five brothers who were all made a career in music. Most of them were connected to a member of the Habsburg dynasty: Charles and Pascasius were at the service of Philip II of Spain, Augustin was a canon in Lille and François worked first in Tournai and then for the Austrian Habsburgs. The latter is the best-known, apart from Jacob, and left a considerable number of works. It was Jacob, though, who can be considered one of the most prolific composers of his time.

Jacob entered the service of the Habsburgs at the early age of 17, probably as a boy chorister. He worked at the various courts - Vienna, Prague and Innsbruck - until his death, with an interval in the late 1560s when he went to Italy to broaden his horizon. Regnart not only published a large number of works, many of them were reprinted several times until as late as 1655. His German songs were especially popular, but he himself apparently considered his masses as his main works: after his death three books with masses were printed, but as they contain a dedication to Rudolf II he must have prepared the publication himself.

The main work on this disc is one of these masses, the Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae. The work whose material Regnart has used in this mass has not been preserved. It was probably a secular motet on a humanistic text, and could well have been written by Regnart himself. One of the characteristics of this mass is the splitting of the six voices in several groups which are used antiphonally.

The disc contains two state motets, pieces on a Latin text written for a political ceremony, often expressing praise for the employer of the composer. Ut vigilam densa silvam cingente corona is written for Maximilian II, probably in celebration of a military victory. Maximilian is called 'King Aemilius', "triumphing over a hostile people". Quod mitis sapiens nulli virtute secundus was written for a military leader in Habsburg service.

Regnart was a contemporary of Orlandus Lassus, and they knew each other personally. There are also some similarities in that in some of the motets there is a stronger connection between text and music than in music by previous generations. Elements of text expression, for instance by means of the choice of rhythm, can be found in Stella, quam viderant Magi and Exsultent iusti. The chromatic opening of Lamentabatur Jacob suggests Regnart knew the setting of this text by Cristóbal de Morales, according to Stephen Rice in the programme notes. But it is quite possible that this was such a logical choice that it could well have been the result of an independent choice by Regnart himself.

Regnart was called a prolific composer. The same can be said about Philippus de Monte. He composed more than one thousand madrigals, which were printed in 34 books, 144 spiritual motets, about 25 motets and 38 mass settings. He was born in Mechelen, where he was a choirboy at the cathedral, worked in Italy and was at the service of the Habsburgs from 1567 until his death.

The main work on this disc is again a mass, the Missa Ultimi miei sospiri, based on a madrigal by Philippe Verdelot, which closes this disc. Verdelot was a French composer by birth, but went to Italy at a fairly early age, where he settled in Venice, but also worked in Rome. Towards the end of his life he lived in Florence where he also died. The largest part of his oeuvre consists of Italian madrigals. Stephen Rice underlines the impressive command of the Italian text by Verdelot, considering he was not a native Italian speaker. But as he had lived in Italy for so long this seems far less suprising than one may think. De Monte is rather economical in his use of material from this madrigal, but every section of the mass begins with a reference to it.

De Monte also was a contemporary of Lassus (and of Regnart) but is far less willing to express the text in his music. There are some notable exceptions, though, like in Ad te levavi: "I lift up my eyes to you who live in the heavens". There is a large leap upwards in the upper voice, and at the end of the first line we hear another ascending figure towards the words "in caelis". But Philippus de Monte's music is expressive nevertheless, showing a greater passion and being more emotional than the music of Palestrina with whom he can probably better be compared than with Lassus. And this quality must certainly be linked to his activities as a prolific composer of madrigals.

The qualities of both Regnart and De Monte are excellently exposed by Cinquecento which has to be considered one of the best ensembles in regard to the performance of the polyphony of the renaissance. The blending of the voices is impressive as well as the treatment of both text and rhythm. There are only a couple of things to criticise. I think the Italian pronunciation of the Latin text is too generally applied, as I doubt whether at all Habsburg courts this pronunciation has been used. In the recording of works by De Monte the upper voice is a bit shaky in Asperges me. I also think the madrigal by Verdelot should have been recorded in a less spatial acoustics, reflecting the intimacy in which this kind of music was usually performed.

But this is nothing more than nitpicking as these two discs bring marvelous performances of repertoire which is largely neglected, and definitely deserves to be part of the standard repertoire of vocal ensembles which specialize in music of the renaissance.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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