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Renaissance music for Passiontide

[I] "Medieval Chant, Tallis Lamentations"
Tenebrae Consort
Dir: Nigel Short
rec: Oct 24 - 25, 2013, London, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak
Signum Classics - SIGCD901 (© 2014) (65'23")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list
Score Tallis

[in order of appearance] plainchant: [Hymn for Passiontide] Pange lingua gloriosi; [Compline for Passiontide] Deus in adiutorium; [Antiphon] Miserere; [Psalms] Cum invocarem; In te Domine speravi; Qui habitat in adiutorio; Ecce nunc benedicite; [Chapter] Tu in nobis es; [Respond] In manus tuas; [Hymn] Cultor dei memento; [Versicle & Response] Custodi nos; [Antiphon] O Rex gloriose; [Canticle] Nunc dimittis; [Preces - Collect - Benedicamus]; Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585): Lamentationes Jeremiae a 5 (I); plainchant: [Respond] In monte Oliveti; Thomas TALLIS: Lamentationes Jeremiae a 5 (II); plainchant: [Respond] Tristis est anima mea; John SHEPPARD (c1515-1558): [Respond for Compline in Passiontide] In manus tuas I a 3; plainchant: [Litany after Lauds for Maundy Thursday]

David Allsopp, alto; Guy Cutting, Nicholas Madden, tenor; Richard Bannan, baritone; William Gaunt, bass

[II] Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548 - 1611): "Tenebrae Responsories"
Dir: Nigel Short
rec: Dec 28 - 29, 2012, London, St Alban the Martyr, Holborn
Signum Classics - SIGCD344 (© 2013) (72'01")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Source: Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, 1585

Grace Davidson, Elizabeth Drury, Joanna Forbes L'Estrange, Alison Hill, soprano; David Allsopp, Stephen Burrows, Mark Chambers, alto; Jeremy Budd, Guy Cutting, Nicholas Madden, tenor; Gabriel Crouch, William Gaunt, Stephen Kennedy, bass

[III] Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525 - 1594): Lamentationes Hieremiae, Liber Tertius
Laudantes Consort
Dir: Guy Janssens
rec: May 10 - 12, 2013, Beaufays, Abbaye
Sonamusica - SONA1311 (2 CDs) (© 2013) (1.27'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/N
Cover & track-list

Janelle Lucyk, Renate Weytjens, Helen Cassano, Marine Fornasari, cantus; Agnes de Graaff, Dimitry Goethals, altus; Pieter De Moor, Jan Peters, Thierry De Clercq, Michiel Haspeslagh, tenor; Herman De Winné, Arnout Malfliet, Jan Moeyaert, Erik Van Nevel, bassus

[IV] "De Passione"
Odhecatona; Clara Murtas, voiceb
Dir: Paolo Da Col
rec: May 2011, Belluno, Chiesa di S. Pietro
Cantus - C 9637 (© 2012) (73'42")
Liner-notes: E/F/I/S; lyrics - translations: E/F/I/S
Cover & track-list

anon: O tristu fatale dieb; Loyset COMPÈRE (c1440-1518): In nomine Iesu (Officium de Cruce)a; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1455/60-1521): Miserere mei, Deusa; O Domine Iesu Christe (Officium de Passione)a; Qui velatus facie fuistia; Jacob OBRECHT (1457/8-1505): Parce Dominea; Gaspar VAN WEERBEKE (c1445-after 1516): Tenebrae factae sunta

Alessandro Carmignani, Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, Renzo Bez, alto; Paolo Fanciullacci, Fabio Furnari, Mauro Collina, Vincenzo Di Donato, tenor; Marco Scavazza, Enrico Volontieri, baritone; Sergio Foresti, Antonio Abete, bass

The basis of all sacred music of the Western Church is plainchant, generally known as 'Gregorian chant'. From the Middle Ages to the present day it was (is) sung every day, all year round, in churches and monasteries. It also served as the basis of polyphony, which developed after the year 1000. The CD of the Tenebrae Consort brings both elements together in a program of music for Passiontide. The plainchant is taken from sources at Salisbury Cathedral. The program begins with the hymn Pange lingua, which is followed by the Compline for Passiontide, with antiphons, psalms, responsories, and an anthem. The second half focuses on the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis. This part of the programme is extended by three responsories, two anonymous and one by John Sheppard (In manus tuas I). The program concludes with the Litany after Lauds on Maundy Thursday. This disc gives a good impression of the liturgy for Holy Week, albeit fragmentarily. The liturgical habits are respected as much as possible: when a text is to be spoken silently - Pater noster and Credo, both part of the Preces, Collect and Benedicamus - you'll hear nothing for several seconds. The plainchant is sung by tenors and basses, in the polyphony they are joined by an alto. The plainchant is beautifully sung in a relaxed manner. It is also devoid of any vibrato which makes it all the more surprising that Tallis' Lamentations are marred by a nervous fluttering in several voices. That is a big shame. However, this disc's main importance is the liturgical setting, and especially the plainchant receives an excellent performance.

The just mentioned responsories are an important part of the liturgy for Tenebrae, the Matins of the last three days of Holy Week. Many composers in the renaissance set these responsories polyphonically. Among the best-known settings are those from the pen of Tomás Luis de Victoria who confined himself to the responsories of the second and third Nocturn. There are a number of recordings available which all have their specific qualities. In the interpretation of Tenebrae the content of the Responsories is exposed, for instance through the use of dynamic contrasts. The second responsory from the second Nocturn for Good Friday is sung an octave lower than written which suits the text: "Tenebrae factae sunt" (There was darkness when the Jews had crucified Jesus). This practice is not required by Victoria, but goes back to a custom that originated in Rome in the 18th century, and that makes it questionable from a historical perspective. In 2010 I reviewed here the recording of the Spanish ensemble Musica Ficta which produces a very different sound. The responsories are part of the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae which Victoria published in 1585, and the entire collection was recorded by La Colombina, another Spanish ensemble. The performances of these two ensembles may come closer to the character of Victoria's Responsories. But I certainly don't want to disparage Tenebrae's performance: this is a pretty good recording and if you don't need the whole set you should take this disc into consideration.

The Responsories are closely connected to the Lamentationes Jeremiae, also part of the liturgy for Tenebrae. In the book Lamentations from the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah mourns about the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of its people into the Babylonian Captivity. An apocryphal hand extended each of the five chapters with a final verse: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God." In this form these texts were included in the liturgy of Holy Week: Jerusalem symbolizes the humanity that has turned away from God, and thus caused Jesus' Passion and death.
Palestrina published four books with musical settings of these texts, in the years 1588/89; the Laudantes Consort recorded the complete third book. At this time composers of sacred music usually didn't care very much about text expression, although one will find pieces in which text and music are closely connected, for instance in the oeuvre of Lassus. Palestrina is first and foremost interested in an optimum clarity of the text: polyphony and homophony alternate, but imitation - which results in various voices singing different parts of the text simultaneously - is usually avoided. However, now and then he singles out some parts of the text; various cases are mentioned in the 'Guide for Listening' in the booklet. Let me give just one example: at the beginning of the second lesson for Holy Saturday the voices go all the way down on the words "How has the gold become tarnished." The Laudantes Consort consists of 14 singers and offers a homogeneous and well-balanced sound. No vocal group dominates, and the text is easy to understand. The discourse is quiet, one could say 'meditative', and that seems to me quite appropriate. I find this interpretation very impressive, and consider this production as a most welcome addition to the discography of Passion music. It would be nice if this ensemble would record the other books with lamentations as well.

A large part of the recording of the vocal ensemble Odhecaton includes music for Passiontide from a single edition of the famous Venetian music publisher Petrucci. It was printed in 1503 and the title gives a clear indication of its content: 'Motets about the Passion, the Cross, Corpus Christi, the Blessed Virgin and other occasions'. This recording focuses on the first two categories. These include three cyclic works by Loyset Compère and Josquin Desprez respectively. Compère's In nomine Iesu comprises nine hymns whose lyrics are probably taken from a breviary. Many breviaries also contained seven prayers, which are attributed to Gregorius the Great, Pope from 590 to 604. Josquin set five of these prayers which Petrucci included in the collection under the title O Domine Iesu Christe - after the opening formula of every prayer - with the addition of Officium de Passione. It is followed by his motet cycle Qui velatus facie fuisti, whose texts figure in many French and Burgundian breviaries. The program opens with a motet by Jacob Obrecht (Parce Domine), and after the two cycles we hear Tenebrae factae sunt by Gaspar van Weerbeke. The program is concluded with the penitential Psalm Miserere mei Deus by Josquin. The text of the latter work has a strong personal character, and this probably bridges the gap between this polyphonic repertoire and the anonymous lament O tristu fatale die, sung in Sardinian dialect by Clara Murtas. Musically its inclusion is a little odd, also because of the very different way of singing.
But what all the works in this program have in common - apart from the subject matter - is that the text is always in the centre. Both Compère and Josquin aimed at an optimum clarity of the text. Imitative passages are rare, and there are many episodes that are dominated by homophony. Some text elements are singled out by musical means. The ensemble emphasizes this, for example by dynamic shading. The program and the interpretation result in a disc of a strongly meditative character. At the same time there is much expression here, not in the baroque sense of the word, but with the means of the time. It enriches the record collection of every lover of renaissance polyphony.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Laudantes Consort

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