A Renaissance Century

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Program: #18-31   Air Date: Jul 23, 2018

New recordings of Ockeghem, music for the Virgin Mary, and the rarely-heard Sebastian de Vivanco.

I. Vienna Vocal Consort: Nostre Dame  (Vienna Vocal Consort). Klanglogo CD KL1412.

Rarely heard, early settings of Marian texts: following their acclaimed discs ‘Byrd’ and ‘Passion’, the Vienna Vocal Consort now release their third production with klanglogo.

The starting point and centre-piece in the ensemble’s journey through music history is Guillaume de Machaut’s epochal ‘Messe de Nostre Dame’ – the first complete polyphonic setting of a Mass ordinary, dating to 1360. This work is recorded alongside a grand Magnificat by the great Franco-Flemish composer Pierre de la Rue (c. 1470–1518), and other Marian settings by Dufay, Josquin des Prez, Palestrina, and Gesualdo. Recorded at the thirteenth-century Gothic church of Retz monastery (Austria),

‘Nostre Dame’ is infused with the musical hallmark of the Vienna Vocal Consort: the appealing, playful alternation between male and female voices, which allows the contrasts of early polyphony and Renaissance repertoire to shine in resplendent colours.

The Vienna Vocal Consort is one of Austria’s leading Early Music ensembles. In addition to their busy concert schedule across Europe, the singers have established a growing group of loyal fans with their two other recordings with klanglogo: ‘Byrd’ (KL1401) features sacred works of the English Renaissance composer William Byrd, and ‘Passion’ puts centre stage the first St John Passion in the German language, written by Joachim von Burck.

Guillaume de MACHAUT (c.1300-1377)
Messe de Nostre Dame [26.19]
Jacobus GALLUS ? (c.1550-1591)
Ave Maria [2.05]
Guillaume DUFAY c.1397-1474)
Ave Maris Stella [5:01]
Pierre de la RUE (c.1460-1518)
Magnificat [15.10]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Ave Maria [3.26]
Juan de IRIBARREN (1699-1767)
Stabat Mater [1.34]
Adam MICHNA (c.1600-1676)
Mariánské Ave [1.58]
Tomas Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Salve Regina [3.51]
Josquin DESPREZ (c.1445- 1521)
Ave Maria virgo serena [5.49]

II. Ockeghem: Missa Mi-Mi (Cappella Pratensis/Rebecca Stewart). Ricercar in Eco CD RIC 131.

Johannes Ockeghem: Missa Mi-mi
From Gramophone (on the original release): It is gratifying that the increasing flow of recordings of Ockeghem’s Masses shows no sign of abating in the aftermath of the recent quincentenary; and that The Clerks’ Group’s continuing series has not deterred other ensembles from joining in. The Mi-Mi Mass has a distinguished pedigree on CD, but this recording offers a refreshingly different approach. Rebecca Stewart has thought a great deal about the work and proposes a mystical, symbolic interpretation of its modal structure. Mystical, too, is Cappella Pratensis’s performance under her direction: tempos are drawn-out (the whole Mass lasts 36 minutes, against 27 with The Hilliard Ensemble and 31 with The Clerks), and the singing is characterized by expressive swells on long notes that sound very different from the much straighter delivery adopted by both English groups. If the tempos seem almost too extreme in the longer-texted movements (some listeners may find my ‘almost’ a bit rich: the Credo lasts nearly 12 minutes), in the melismatic movements especially the purposeful shaping of lines makes for deeply involving listening. This also means that dissonances that quickly pass by in other performances are fully savoured here. The ensemble is recognizably Flemish in tone, but sings at a consistently low dynamic: the effect is not so much muted as inward (the whole of the Agnus Dei, and the second one in particular, illustrates this magically), which gives the women’s voices an intriguing graininess. Whether one agrees with Stewart’s overt characterization of Mi-Mi as ‘Ockeghem’s Crucifixion mass’, her contemplative approach has nothing of the ‘hands-off’, underinterpreted blandness too often associated with the term, and for that reason alone I find this recording utterly compelling.

There are some bizarre decisions regarding sharpened notes, particularly those on final chords, most audibly in the Kyrie and in an otherwise solid rendition of Intemerata Dei mater; to my mind these are compensated by the incorporation of several very sensible emendations in Jaap van Benthem’s recent edition, which are presented here for the first time and conclusively vindicated: reason enough to investigate this new recording even if you have either or both of the others. Finally, the chant selections have a life and character utterly foreign to the English manner of plainsong singing; that too is refreshing. It might be easy to point out occasional roughnesses of intonation and delivery, but for those who worry that a certain depressing uniformity is taking hold of this repertory, Stewart’s approach is not so much a breath of fresh air as a much-needed hit of oxygen. Don’t pass it by.’

  1. Nos autem, introit  (05:24)

    Missa "Mi-mi" (Missa quarti toni), for 4 voices

    1. Kyrie  (02:41)
    2. Gloria  (07:37)
    3. Credo  (11:34)
    4. Sanctus  (06:55)
    5. Agnus Dei  (06:27)
  2. Christus factus est, gradual in mode 5 (Liber Usualis, No 655)  (02:42)
  3. Protege Domine  (03:17)
  4. Dominus Jesus  (01:39)
  5. Intemerata Dei mater, motet for 5 voices  (07:07

III. Sebastián de Vivanco: Missa Assumpsit Jesus (De Profundis/Robert Hollingworth). Hyperion CD CDA68257.

Sebastián de Vivanco: Missa Assumpsit Jesus
Founded in 2011, De Profundis is a Cambridge-based male-voice ensemble. This Hyperion recording under Robert Hollingworth (one of the group’s peripatetic conductors) focuses on Sebastián de Vivanco (c.1551-1622) a contemporary of Tomás Luis de Victoria, whose career reached its highest fulfilment in 1602 at Salamanca Cathedral where he was appointed as Maestro. This compilation brings together a parody Mass, a handful of Motets and an extended setting of the Magnificat, the whole given intermittent anchorage by a bajón – a Spanish form of dulcian. It’s an intriguing addition considering the sizeable ensemble of twenty-five voices, for which Bruno Turner’s booklet note provides no explanation, and nothing to suggest whether its use is speculative or based on historic practice.

The first twelve tracks (including an “Introit” and a “Dismissal”) present a re-imagined celebration of a Mass for the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6), including plainsong and the Eucharistic Motet ‘O sacrum convivium’ with its startling dissonances. It’s a worthy idea to place the Mass in a liturgical context creating atmosphere and vocal contrast between five-part textures and unison voices. De Profundis makes an impressive sound grounded in warm tone and mostly excellent blend: these singers have absorbed this music into their collective bloodstream even if one might occasionally wish for greater intimacy of expression and grandeur. Spaciousness, buoyancy and restraint give dramatic coherence to the ‘Sanctus’ in which Vivanco reveals an astonishing display of ingenuity in its second “Osanna”, a seven-part tour de force. The ‘Agnus Dei’comes as a surprise, both for its single entreaty and its somewhat wandering pleas for forgiveness, which Hollingworth never quite rescues from sounding dull – the composer’s fault largely, but intonation is also questionable. For those wanting to hear this Mass in a one-to-a-part version and at the original higher pitch there is Musica Reservata de Barcelona.

Hollingworth’s Motet selections reveal Vivanco at his most harmonically expressive, such as ‘Veni delicte me’ with its imagery of blossoming vines artfully worked into its contours and bearing a delicious false relation even more potent for its unexpected arrival. ‘Versa est in luctum’ subtly achieves stillness and forward momentum in a performance beautifully capturing the text’s desolation, while ‘Surge, propera, amica mea’ unfolds with gratifying poise and, at times, lightness.

Concluding is the lavish ‘Magnificat primi toni’. Its six voices expand to eight for the closing “Gloria patri” which De Profundis brings to a rousing close (tenors enjoying the syncopations) with a richly sonorous final cadence. My only quibble is with the unvarying dynamics. Otherwise, it’s a fine performance with plenty of cut and thrust. These accounts add considerably to our appreciation of this neglected composer of the Spanish Renaissance. Texts and translations are included in the booklet.

Sebastián de Vivanco was born in Ávila, probably in 1551. He became a choirboy at the cathedral, briefly a companion of Tomás Luis de Victoria to whom he was junior by some two years. They were under the tutelage of Bernardino de Ribera and his successor Juan Navarro. As a youth Vivanco progressed as a musician and studied for the priesthood. Victoria went to Rome and stayed there for two decades; Vivanco’s life is obscure until his appointment as maestro at Lleida (Lérida), a Catalan city in whose language and customs he was probably uncomfortable. He left after three years, dismissed, but with ‘no discredit to his leaving’. He returned to Old Castile, and became maestro de capilla at Segovia, then a decade later at his home city of Ávila. Briefly tempted to a post at Seville, he changed his mind and went home. There he stayed until he won the prestigious position of maestro at Salamanca Cathedral in 1602. The next year he was awarded a Master’s degree at the university, and was appointed catedratico de prima (morning professor), succeeding Bernardo Clavijo del Castillo who entered royal service in Madrid. Vivanco had achieved the peak of his career. He was soon to find that rare thing in Spain, a printer-publisher of music: Artus Taberniel (Arthur Tavernier of Antwerp) had been established at Salamanca as the university printer. In 1607, 1608 and 1610, three great collections of Vivanco’s music saw the light of day.

In 1608 Taberniel printed a collection of ten Mass Ordinaries, Vivanco’s Liber Missarum. It begins with a setting for six voice parts and ends with one for eight. There are seven for four voices and one for five—the Mass recorded here. Missa Assumpsit Jesus is presented in a context of the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (6 August). The title and the main melodic basis of the Mass is taken from Vivanco’s own motet Assumpsit Jesus Petrum, which tells how Jesus took Peter along with James and John up to a high place where he was transfigured, and there endorsed by God’s voice of approval from a high cloud. The first part of this text served as a Vespers antiphon for the Transfiguration feast, but Vivanco originally wrote it in full as a Gospel motet for the Second Sunday of Lent. Here we use it as an extra-liturgical motet in place of the Offertory. The plainchant of the Introit, Gradual and Alleluia verse are taken from the Roman Gradual published in 1614, as are the responses and Preface before the Sanctus. The deeply devotional Eucharistic motet O sacrum convivium (to the words of Thomas Aquinas) concludes our choice of Mass music.

Vivanco was an enthusiast for complex canons. The Osanna II for seven voices has three of them derived from a diagram of music notation with recondite Latin instructions. The notation has signs for entries and departures, plus mensural time signatures, some reversed, all governing the voices’ motions, forward and backwards, in full time values and in diminution (doubling of speed), all using a nine-note version of the main theme of the Mass, itself derived from the opening melodic line of the motet Assumpsit Jesus: a rich but impenetrable aural experience. It is a relief to hear the crystal clear canons (of imitation at the unison) for the top voices in the Credo’s ‘Crucifixus’ and in the Agnus Dei.

Following the Dismissal, ‘Go, Mass is ended. Thanks be to God’, we present motets of penitence and mourning followed by three that honour the Blessed Virgin. De profundis, the Psalmist’s cry ‘out of the depths’, is a brief setting in which the composer uses some agitated figures, enhanced chromatically, to plead for mercy. On a grander scale, Versa est in luctum mourns the passing of some important person. Vivanco’s motet is one of a contemporaneous trio of six-voiced settings of this text (the Office of the Dead): the others are Alonso Lobo’s for Philip II from 1598, and Victoria’s for the dowager Empress Maria from 1603. Vivanco’s was not included in his book of 1610 and may have been composed a few years later.

The Marian motets have the composer in joyful mood. The two that have texts from the biblical Song of Songs are for two equal choirs. They both begin with flowing imitative entries in typical sixteenth century polyphonic style, but soon they settle into a declamatory mode, mostly ‘call-and-answer’ from choir to choir. The rhythmic variety of patter, sometimes syncopated, is very lively. Vivanco uses these resources to change pace. Some grandeur is achieved when the choirs’ eight voices come together in rich sonority. The Songs were drawn from the Vulgate Bible because the Church interpreted them as depicting the mutual love of Christ and his spouse the Church. As Marian devotion increased, many passages became associated with the Blessed Virgin: Vivanco’s printed heading for Veni, dilecte mi is ‘De Beatae Mariae’. There are many delightful touches in Surge, propera, amica mea: those treasured words ‘hiems transiit, imber abiit et recessit’ (‘now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone’) are set in gentle repetition and then in full choir harmony, into which spring suddenly bursts—‘Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra’ (‘The flowers appear in our land’)—in rapid-fire parlando style.

Assumpta est Maria is something else. The text is the first antiphon at Vespers of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Vivanco’s motet could have been used to replace the plainsong that would follow the Psalm Dixit Dominus; more likely is its extra-liturgical use on that joyful feast, for it has an added Alleluia. It is written for six voices, three of them equal superius parts that continually cross, weaving around each other to shimmering effect. Two tenors supported by a baritone complete the six in the same way, constantly in close imitation. This is an unbroken web of lively counterpoint, very bright, with joyous leaps, syncopations and runs.

The recording ends with a setting of the Marian canticle, the Magnificat. The Liber Magnificarum (1607) consisted of two complete cycles of polyphonic verses to be sung in alternation with plainsong. One cycle has polyphony for the odd-numbered verses, the other sets polyphony for the even verses. There are eight settings to each cycle, employing each of the eight plainchant recitation tones. To these sixteen Magnificats Vivanco added two more, one at the beginning of the book and one at the end: an extra ‘primi toni’ for six voices and an ‘octavi toni’ for eight voices. The latter has gained some currency in a modern edition, recorded by Westminster Cathedral Choir. The former ends this programme.

The Magnificat primi toni is for six voices (with double superius and tenor parts), reduced in verse five, ‘Et misericordia’, to just four, expanding to eight in the doxology ‘Gloria Patri’; in that final verse Vivanco plays his tricks. He presents three canons: one instructs a voice to be copied an octave higher, omitting all the smallest notes and the longest; one of the tenor parts is to be imitated at the fourth above; the bass voice is to be imitated by another bass who must reverse all the intervals, going down when the leader goes up, and vice versa, singing three bars behind. All very clever, but you will probably hear just a gorgeous sonic tapestry.

  1.  Magnificat
  2. Veni dilecte mi, motet
  3. Assumpta est Maria, motet
  4. Surge, propera, amica mea, for chorus
  5. Versa est in luctum, motet for 6 voices
  6. De profundis clamavi, motet
  7. Ite missa est, dismissal
  8. Per omnia saecula saeculorum ... Vere dignum et justum est
  9. Alleluia Candor
  10. Speciosus forma
  11. Missa Assumpsit Iesus
  12. Introit: Illuxerunt coruscationes tuae

Composer Info

Guillaume de MACHAUT (c.1300-1377), Jacobus GALLUS ? (c.1550-1591), Guillaume DUFAY c.1397-1474), Pierre de la RUE (c.1460-1518), Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594), Juan de IRIBARREN (1699-1767), Adam MICHNA (c.1600-1676), Tomas Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611), Josquin DESPREZ (c.1445- 1521), Johannes Ockeghem, Sebastián de Vivanco (c.1551-1622)

CD Info

CD KL1412, CD RIC 131, CD CDA68257