musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Heinrich ISAAC (c1450 - 1517): "Ich muss dich lassen"

Capilla Flamenca; Oltremontano
Dir: Dirk Snellings

rec: March 2011, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts
Ricercar - RIC 318 (© 2011) (65'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations
Cover & track-list

Heinrich ISAAC: Ad te clamamus; Donna di dentro - Dammene un pocho - Fortuna d'un gran tempo; En l'ombre d'un buissonet; Fammi una gratia, amore; Hora e di maggio; Ich stund an einem morgen; Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen - O Welt, ich muß dich lassen - Missa carminum: Christe II; La mi la sol; La Morra; Las rauschen; Missa La Spagna: Agnus Dei II; Missa Tmeisken was jonck: Sanctus; O Maria, mater Christi; O praeclarissima - Alla battaglia; Quis dabit capiti meo aquam; Tart ara; Tmeisken was jonck; Arnolt SCHLICK (c1460-after 1521): Tmeisken was jonck; Ludwig SENFL (c1486-1542/43): Ich stund an einem morgen; Francesco SPINACINO (fl 1507): La Morra

[CF] Marnix De Cat, alto; Tore Denys, tenor; Lieven Termont, baritone; Dirk Snellings, bass; Patrick Denecker, recorder; Liam Fennelly, Thomas Baeté, Piet Stryckers, viola da gamba; Jan Van Outryve, lute
[Oltr] Doron David Sherman, cornett; Adam Bregman, Harry Ries, Wim Becu, sackbut

Heinrich Isaac was one of the most important representatives of the Franco-Flemish school which dominated the music scene in Europe for about two centuries. His oeuvre is large and varied, and comprises sacred and secular vocal works as well as a number of textless pieces. A rather large number of pieces are misattributed which usually is a sign of the esteem in which a composer was held. The same is true for the many arrangements which were made by other composers. In his liner-notes David Burn sums up why he made such an impression on his contemporaries. "Isaac impressed, then, in his own time, with his remarkable ability to compose fluently in many different styles. To judge from the works of his that have survived, it is easy to see why: Isaac had no shortage of talented contemporaries, but the sheer quantity of his music that has come down to us, and the bewildering variety of styles and forms that it covers, are unparalleled by any other composer of his generation. Not for nothing has more than one modern scholar called him a musical chameleon".

It is not known exactly when Isaac was born nor where, and nothing is known about his musical education either. The first time his name appears in a document is 1484 when he is referred to as composer at the court of Duke Sigismund of Austria in Innsbruck. In 1485 he was working as a singer in Florence at the service of the Medici family. When his patron, Lorenzo de' Medici, died in 1492, Isaac composed the motet Quis dabit capiti meo aquam. Soon Isaac's employment ended, when the Medicis were banished from Florence in 1494. In 1497 he was appointed court composer to the newly established chapel of Maximilian I in Vienna. As a member of the chapel he travelled to Innsbruck, Augsburg, Nuremberg and Konstanz. In the latter city he composed the monumental collection of liturgical music, known as the Choralis Constantinus. It seems that Isaac's heart was in Italy, though. In 1515 he was allowed to live permanently in Florence while continuing to receive his salary. The ties with the Medici family, restored to power in 1512, were renewed. Isaac died in Florence in 1517.

Since so few discs are entirely devoted to the oeuvre of Isaac this recording could serve as a good introduction to his work. It is clear that an attempt has been made to pay tribute to the versatility of Isaac's oeuvre. But as Isaac's secular pieces are much better represented on disc than his sacred music, it is regrettable that in the programme of the Capilla Flamenca it is again the secular repertoire that dominates. If masses by Isaac are recorded, we mostly get one or two of the five sections, and that is the case here again. Unfortunately very few of his masses are available complete.

The Capilla Flamenca is one of the best ensemble's in the field of renaissance music, and it justifies its reputation here once again. That doesn't mean there aren't any issues to mention. First of all, some pieces are presented in the form in which they circulated. As I mentioned before Isaac's music was very popular and was adapted in many ways. Sometimes we only get such an adaptation, which isn't necessarily what Isaac intended (which doesn't imply he had problems with such adaptations). We also get some extracts from larger compositions which were circulating as independent pieces. In the performance practice the ensemble has taken considerable freedom which may raise some questions. One of them is the decision to frequently change the scoring of pieces, from one voice and instruments to the complete ensemble (Ich stund an einem morgen) and from a cappella, via instruments alone, to a mixture of voices and instruments (O Maria, mater Christi). This sometimes damages the inner coherence, although some listeners may not experience this as a problem. I am also not very happy with the mixture of various versions of one piece. The famous song Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen is presented in three versions: the original secular text, a later version with the sacred text O Welt, ich muß dich lassen, and an extract from the Missa carminum in which Isaac made use of material from this song. Rather than performing them in succession, they are mixed up. I find that very odd.

If you can live with that kind of things, you will certainly enjoy the variety and brilliance of Isaac's music and the first-class singing and playing of the two ensembles. The booklet includes the lyrics, but without translations. You will find them at the site of this disc as given in the header.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Capilla Flamenca

CD Reviews