musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"Orlandus Lassus - a musical biography"

Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
concert: Oct 12, 2012, Utrecht, Cathedral [Dom]

Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560): Triste départ, chanson; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Che più d'un giorno è la vita mortale, madrigal; Comme la tourterelle, chanson; Il grave de l'eta, madrigal; Lamentationes Feria sexta in Parasceve; Missa ad imitationem moduli Triste départ; Ores que je suis dispos, chanson

Poline Renou, Michaela Riener, Sabine Lutzenberger, soprano; Achim Schulz, Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, Timothy Leigh Evans, Tom Phillips, Matthew Vine, tenor; Tim Whiteley, baritone; Guillaume Olry, bass

The early music scene always takes a breather after the Festival Early Music Utrecht is over. On 12 October the series of concerts which are part of the Early Music Network made a start. It was a most appropriate start, not only because the first concert was given by one of the most respected ensembles of the scene, the Huelgas Ensemble, under the direction of Paul Van Nevel. It was also appropriate because of the programme which was entirely devoted to Orlandus Lassus. He will be one of the composers in residence of the Festival Early Music Utrecht of 2013. This concert was the perfect appetizer.

In his programme-notes Paul Van Nevel pointed out the versatility of Lassus. It is impossible to do justice to the variety of his oeuvre in a single programme. Even so we got a pretty good impression of his compositional skills in the various genres. The programme started with two Italian madrigals. In Lassus' oeuvre there is a closer connection between text and music than in the works of most composers of previous generations, or even his contemporary Palestrina. That has everything to do with his interest in the genre of the madrigal. You can leave it to Paul Van Nevel to pay attention to those moments where the text is illustrated in the music.

Obviously the text of the mass gives less opportunity to depict the text. The Missa ad imitationem moduli Triste départ is based on the chanson by Nicolas Gombert. It is a piece of a strongly melancholic character, but shows little connection between text and music. The mood of the piece was convincingly communicated. The mass then recevived a monumental performance, mainly because of the beautiful shaping of the lines which are perfectly audible due to the great transparency of the ensemble. One of the striking features of the performances is that the volume is rather modest, if you compare it with in particular English ensembles like the Tallis Scholars. Van Nevel makes effective use of the acoustic of the venue, also by making the singers stand in a circle, forcing the sound as it were to go up in the air and spread through the Cathedral. The relatively modest volume also allows a perfect delivery. As I don't have access to the score of the mass I can't tell whether the closing chord on "finis" ([his reign shall have no] end; Credo) is of an almost endless length. If it was Van Nevel's decision to hold it that long, it was quite effective.

The second half started off with two chansons. The contrasts in the text of Ores que je suis dispos came off perfectly and in Comme la Tourterelle the treatment of dynamics reflected the content of this chanson. The largest work of the second part were the Lamentationes Hieremiae prophetae for Good Friday. This is a monumental piece in which Lassus impressively shows his skills to translate a text in music which came across perfectly in the interpretation. Just because the music was mostly sung at a relatively modest volume the fortes on words like "falsas" and "ejectiones" had such a strong effect. The mournful character of this lamentations were impressively realised, and one was struck again by the quality not only of the collective, but also of the individual voices. Van Nevel is very careful in selecting the voices of his ensemble and that clearly pays off in his performances.

It was a most memorable concert which makes one look forward to next year when much more from Lassus' oeuvre may be savoured.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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