musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Philippe Rogier & Gery de Ghersem

[I] Philippe ROGIER (c1561 - 1596): "Polychoral Works"
Magnificat; His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
Dir: Philip Cave

rec: June 13 - 15, 2009, London, Henry Wood Hall
Linn Records - CKD 348 ( 2011) (72'41")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525/26-1594): Domine in virtute tua a 8 [3]; Philippe ROGIER: Domine Dominus noster a 12; Laudate Dominum a 8 [5]; Missa Domine Dominus noster a 12; Missa Domine in virtute tua [6]; Regina coeli a 8 [5]; Verbum caro factum est a 12; Videntes stellam magi a 12

[Magnificat] Anna Crookes, Sally Dunkley, Carys Lane, Helen Neeves, soprano; Dan Collins, David Gould, Kim Porter, Clare Wilkinson, Richard Wyn-Roberts, alto; William Balkwill, Simon Beston, Jeremy Budd, Kevin Kyle, tenor; Chris Adams, Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Cheyney Kent, bass
[HMSC] Jeremy West, Jamie Savan, cornett; Emily White, Susan Addison, Wim Becu, sackbut
Keith McGowan, dulcian; Joy Smith, harp; David Miller, lute; Silas Standage, organ

[II] Philippe ROGIER: "Music from the Missae Sex"
Magnificat; His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts; Alastair Ross, organa
Dir: Philip Cave

rec: Feb 21 - 23, 2011, Cambridge, St George's Chesterton
Linn Records - CKD 387 ( 2011) (74'41")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Antonio DE CABEZN (1510-1566): Ave maris stellaa; Cancion francesca glosadaa; Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (c1510-c1556): Inclita stirps Jesse [1]; Philippe ROGIER: Da pacem, Domine a 6; Missa Inclita stirps Jesse [6]; Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniae a 4

[Magnificat] Julie Cooper, Alex Kidgell, soprano; Sally Dunkley, Caroline Trevor, mean; Jeremy Budd, Matthew Long, tenor; Ben Davis, Eamonn Dougan, baritone; Christopher Adams, Rob Macdonald, bass
[HMSC] Jeremy West, Sam Goble, cornett; Abigail Newman, Miguel Tantos Sevillano, Andrew Harwood-White, sackbut
Keith McGowan, dulcian; Joy Smith, harp; Alastair Ross, organ

[III] Gery DE GHERSEM (1573 - 1630): "Ave virgo sanctissima"
Dir: Erik Van Nevel

rec: Feb 19 - 21, 2010, Mechelen, St. Jan de Doper
Accent - ACC 24235 ( 2011) (7546")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Pieter CORNET (c1575-1633): Regina coelib; Gery DE GHERSEM: Missa Ave virgo sanctissima a 7 [6]; Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1596): Ave virgo sanctissima a 5 [2]; Regina coeli a 8 [4]; Salve Regina a 4 [2]; plainchant: Regina coeli; Peter PHILIPS (1560-1628): Regina coeli a 8 [7]; Salve Regina a 8 [7]; Philippe ROGIER: Regina coeli a 8 [5]

Sarah Abrams, Marina Smolders, soprano; Sabine Lutzeberger, Kerlijne Van Nevel, mezzo-soprano; Ann Baptist, contralto; Rob Cuppens, Bart Uvyn, Gunther Vandeven, alto; Wouter Bossaer, Gunther Claessens, Lode Somers, Han Warmelinck, tenor; Joachim Brack, Erik Van Nevel, baritone; Paul Mertens, Walter Van der Ven, bass; Be Van Nespen, organ [solo: b]

Sources: [1] Philip Ulhart, ed, Cantiones selectissimae quatuor vocum liber secundus, 1549; [2] Francisco Guerrero, Motteta, 1570; [3] Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motettorum liber secundus, 1572; [4] Francisco Guerrero, Mottecta, liber secundus, 1589; [5] Philippe Rogier, Sacrarum modulationum quas vulgo Motecta apellant Liber primus, 1595; [6] Philippe Rogier/Gery de Ghersem, Missae Sex Philippi Rogerii ..., 1598; [7] Peter Philips, Cantiones sacrae octonis vocibus, 1613

For about two centuries the music scene in Europe was dominated by representatives of the so-called Franco-Flemish school. Their influence extended as far as Spain. Here they were participating in the activities of the Capilla Flamenca. It had been founded by the Habsburg emperor Charles V, and famous masters were acting as its directors, like Nicolas Gombert, Thomas Crecquillon and Pierre de Manchicourt. The latter was appointed under the rule of Charles V's son, Philip II. The three discs to be reviewed here are devoted to two of the main figures in the Capilla Flamenca under Philip, Philippe Rogier and Gery de Ghersem. They have in common that relatively few compositions from their pen have been preserved.

It is assumed that Rogier was born around 1561. This has been the reason for the British ensemble Magnificat to start a series of recordings devoted to his music. So far three discs have been released; the present two are the second and third. In 1572 Geert van Turnhout became maestro de capilla of the Capilla Flamenca. He took a number of choirboys with him, among them Philippe Rogier. He sang for eight years under his direction; in 1580 Van Turnhout died and was succeeded by George de la Hle. In 1584 Rogier was appointed vice-maestro de capilla, and succeeded De la Hle in 1586.

Rogier's oeuvre consists of about 250 compositions. He was held in high esteem: the Spanish poet Lope de Vega hailed him in 1630 as "Rogier, pride of Flanders, glory and light" who "departed this life at the height of his genius". He even called him "our beloved Orpheus". The fact that the Portuguese king Joo IV owned 243 pieces from his pen bears witness to his high stature. Unfortunately only about a fifth of his output has been preserved. The largest part has been destroyed in the fire in the Spanish royal palace in Madrid in 1734 and in the earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755. It is only thanks to the fact that Rogier published some of his compositions that a part of his oeuvre has come down to us.

The latest disc by Magnificat is devoted to two of the masses which were part of a collection of six, printed as Missae Sex in 1698. In his will Rogier had asked Gery de Ghersem, a singer of the chapel, to publish five of his masses, and dedicate them to Philip II. De Ghersem added a mass of his own, which is the one recorded by the ensemble Currende. All masses by Rogier are parody masses, using material from other composers as cantus firmus. The sources are motets by Gombert, Crecquillon, Morales, Palestrina and Clemens non Papa. The latter two are relevant here, as Palestrina's motet Domine in virtute tua and Clemens non Papa's motet Inclita stirps Jesse were used as cantus firmus for two of the masses recorded at the two discs of this review.

The Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniae is not a parody mass. It uses melodic material from a musical cypher turned into a cantus firmus. The Mass is based on notes derived from the solmisation syllables of the vowels in the King's title, Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniae. An older example of such a procedure is Josquin's Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae. The musical cypher is used 29 times throughout the mass, in the way of a traditional cantus firmus.

Whereas this mass and the Missa Inclita stirps Jesse are firmly rooted in the stile antico, the Missa Domine Dominus noster and the Missa Domine in virtute tua seem to look forward to the future. Both make use of the cori spezzati technique for which Venice was famous. In his liner-notes Philip Cave mentions that there was a kind of tradition of polychoral writing in Spain; examples can be found in the oeuvre of Victoria and Guerrero. Moreover, Rogier was certainly familiar with the works of Andrea Gabrieli as in his will he bequeathed a book with motets and madrigals by the Venetian master to Ghersem. The Missa Domine Dominus noster exists in two versions, one for 12 and one for 8 voices. Here the former is performed. Interestingly a motet for 12 voices in three choirs by Rogier, Domine Dominus noster, has recently been discovered, and this could well have been used as the cantus firmus of his mass.

The Eastertide Marian antiphon Regina caeli and Laudate Dominum, a setting of Psalm 150, are for 8 voices, and so is the Missa Domine in virtute tua, whose cantus firmus is an 8-part motet by Palestrina. The responsories Verbum caro factum est for Christmas Day and Videntes stellam magi for Epiphany are for 12 voices, and include antiphonal writing, like the other polychoral pieces. Interestingly in these pieces a harp is specified for the bass part and the fact that some parts are untexted suggests the participation of instruments.

That brings to the issue of the interpretation. The line-up of the Capilla Flamenca suggests that liturgical music was performed with more than one voice per part. That is also the case in these recordings of Magnificat. The participation of instruments is plausible but nevertheless hard to prove. Philip Cave refers to the situation in El Escorial, the royal monastery and basilica. "The King spent lavishly on all aspects of El Escorial, including the installation of three large organs and provision of splendid choir books, yet the founding statutes forbade instrumental participation and polyphonic music, and no professional musicians were employed here during Philip II's reign". But there are indications of major ceremonies in which the two royal chapels, one of them the Capilla Flamenca, as well as choirs from cathedrals of other cities took part and various instruments were played. It shows that it is almost impossible to prove how this kind of repertoire was actually performed.

The use of instruments in the polychoral music is most convincing and works rather well from a musical point of view. The instruments mostly play colla voce, in the Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniae they now and then also replace the voices. The singing of Magnificat is generally very good, although some of the voices are n't always free of vibrato. It is notable that Magnificat is a British ensemble. I would prefer an ensemble which produces a different sound, but that is probably too much to ask. We have to be thankful for this fine project which sheds light on a lesser-known master of the Spanish renaissance.

The third disc is connected to the other two in that it focuses on Gery de Ghersem, who from 1598 to 1604 was assistant maestro de capilla. He went to Madrid the same way as Rogier before him. He was a pupil of George de la Hle, and when the latter was appointed as maestro de capilla as successor to Geert van Turnhout he took Ghersem with him. When Rogier died in 1598 he was succeeded by Mateo Romero, another master from Flanders. Under his direction Ghersem became vice-maestro de capilla. In this capacity he was responsible for the choirboys. In 1604 he was given permission to return to Flanders. It is suggested that he was disappointed that Romero had become maestro de capilla and not he. He could well have cherished the hope to be appointed as he was obviously rather close to Rogier.

He also was held in high esteem, as again the large number of compositions in the archive of the Portuguese king Joo IV shows. But in his case the fate of his oeuvre is even worse than with Rogier: the Missa Ave virgo sanctissima which Currende has recorded is the only composition from his pen which has been preserved complete. Two other works exist only in fragments. The mass is for seven voices and based upon a motet by Francisco Guerrero. It was the mass Ghersem added to the five masses by Rogier he published in 1598.

Currende has added music from composers in Ghersem's environment: three motets by Guerrero, including the one he used as cantus firmus for his mass, and one motet by Rogier. In addition we hear music from two composers who worked in Flanders: Peter Philips, of English origin but emigrated to the continent for religious reasons, and Pieter Cornet who for the most part of his life was organist at the court of Albrecht and Isabella in Brussels. His Regina coeli is an organ work which is performed here as an alternatim composition, with verses in plainchant. It is rather odd to hear this piece on a small positive organ; it is very likely this liturgical piece was intended to be played at a much larger instrument. The organ is also used in most other pieces in supporting the vocal ensemble. This was common practice at the time, but whether it is appropriate in every piece on this disc is hard to say. The singing is fine, though, and sound-wise probably closer to the way sacred music was sung in the Capilla Flamenca than Magnificat. But that is a matter of speculation.

Anyway, these three discs are not to be missed by anyone who has a more than average interest in the polyphony of the late renaissance.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

Relevant links:

His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts

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