Lassus, Continued

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Program: #16-05, Air Date: 01/25/16

We have done more programs on this composer than any other; this week, the amazing Prophesies of the Sibyls, and the latest from the ongoing musical biography from Wallonie.

NOTE: All of the music on this program is dedicated to the composer Roland de Lassus (c.1531-1594).

I. Roland de Lassus: Biographie musicale, Vol. V.: Lassus L’Européen. (Vox Luminus/Lionel Meunier). Musique en Wallonie CD MEW 1579.

Lassus: Biographie Musicale Volume V

From MusicWeb International: Following the chronological excursus of its predecessors it seeks to emphasise Lassus’ pan-European credentials throughout his career. The many versions of his name, along with the various languages represented in the titles of the works on this volume justify the decision to name it Lassus the European. He probably began as plain Roland (de) Lasse but composers needed at least an Italian or a Latin name to be taken seriously. The composer whom we know as Prætorius was really called Schultheiss and the English musician Cooper preferred to be known as Coperario. Lassus went one better with Italian and Latin versions.

Very helpfully the notes in the booklet take us through Lassus’ various publications, from the opening Creator omnium (Antwerp 1556) to the posthumous magnum opus which his sons assembled in 1604, from which the concluding Domine quid multiplicati sunt is taken. A majority of the pieces included here are otherwise unavailable, an added incentive for recommending this final volume as the place to begin if you don’t yet have its predecessors.

With five different ensembles, you might expect the quality of the performances on the MEW recordings to be variable, but all five have been very good and Vox Luminis are no exception. The music here is even more varied than on the earlier volumes but they cope with it all extremely well, which comes as no surprise in view of the quality of the other recordings which they have made for the Ricercar label. Between the beautiful performance of the motet Creator omnium (track 1) and the wistful love-lyric Sur tous regretz (track 3) comes their forthright performance of the text from Proverbs, Quid prodest stulto: ‘What does it profit a fool to possess riches, since he cannot buy wisdom?’ (track 2).

All three recordings come with high-quality booklets. The MEW releases come as hard-back books with the disc inside the front cover.

Creator omnium Deus [3:17]
Quid prodest stulto [1:30]
Sur tous regretz [3:18]
A ce matin [1:33]
En m’oyant chanter [1:15]
O Lucia miau miau [2:02]
Oh d’amarissime onde [3:07]
Concupiscendo concupiscit [3:32]
Deus misereatur nostri [4:23]
Heu quantus dolor [2:50]
Ecce Maria genuit nobis [2:40]
Come la cera al foco [2:40]
Tritt auff den rigel [1:24]
Cum invocarem [5:23]
Maria voll Genad [5:32]
Quis valet eloquio [1:56]
Quand me souvient [1:49]
Ô doux parler [3:36]
Exaltabo te Domine [3:29]
Domine quid multiplicati sunt [5:22]

II. Orlando di Lasso: Prophetiae Sibyllarum (Vocalconsort Berlin/Daniel Reuss). Accent CD ACC 24307.

Orlando di Lasso | Prophetiae Siyllarum

The Sibyls were women of ancient times with the gift of prophecy. From the Middle Ages, these figures and their myths were interpreted in a Christian light and placed on a level with the Old Testament prophets. They were a favourite motif in the visual arts during the Renaissance: the best known are Michelangelo's Sibyls in the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, which also adorn the cover of this CD.
The twelve-part motet cycle 'Prophetiae Sibyllarum' was composed during Orlando di Lasso's early period at the Munich court under Duke Albrecht V. The Duke commissioned his young, promising court Kapellmeister to write several extended cycles of works and prohibited their publication, thus making them the sole property of the Munich court. This "musica riservata" was performed for a select audience and is noted for its great compositional skill and sophisticated Latin texts – in this case referring to Christmas events. In an unconventional manner, Lasso often places extreme harmonies next to each other in order to enhance the expression. It was only six years after Lasso's death that the 'Prophetiæ Sibyllarum' was published for the first time.
The Vocalconsort Berlin supplements this half-hour work with more motets of Lasso, also associated with Christmas celebration.

From Early Music Review: Lassus’ extraordinary settings of the thirteen Prophetiæ Sibyllarum belong to the same unsettled and unsettling harmonic sound-world as his tortured Tears of St Peter and a handful of his more troubled madrigals, all the close cousins of the music of Gesualdo. No harmonic progression seems to go in the anticipated direction, and occasionally chords spring from roots which neither prepare for nor build towards them. The results are constantly startling and occasionally disorientating, and constantly challenging to sing. The Vocalconsort of Berlin present performances of such assurance and complete security that it is salutary to recall just how hard this mercurial music is to sing. A perfect balance, utterly secure intonation and a constant inexorable sense of direction make this one of the most impressive recordings I have heard of this repertoire. The Prophetiæ Sibyllarum only make up half a programme, and the Consort add on a group of Christmas motets and the sonorous ten-part Magnificat super aurora lucis rutilat. Even with these bonus tracks the recording lasts for under 50 minutes, and some listeners may regard it as poor value, but bearing in mind the harmonic and intellectual density of the Prophetiæ I certainly didn’t feel short-changed. Anyone unfamiliar with the Prophetiae has a delight in store, and those already acquainted with some of Lassus’ most outlandish compositions will love the consummate professionality of these performances.

Lassus, Orlando de : Prophetiae Sibyllarum... chromatico more singulari confectae, motet collection for 4 voices
Lassus, Orlando de : Dixit Dominus, motet for 8 voices, M. vii (S. xxi/27)
Lassus, Orlando de : Angelus ad pastores ait, motet for 5 voices, M. ii (S. iii/139)
Lassus, Orlando de : Quem vidistis pastores?, motet for 5 voices, M. vii (S. v/1)
Lassus, Orlando de : Videntes stellam magi
Lassus, Orlando de : Ave Maria gratia plena, motet for 5 voices, M. xix (S. v/118)
Lassus, Orlando de : Aurora lucis rutilat (octavi toni), magnificat for 10 voices, H. xvii/124

Composer Info

Roland de Lassus (c.1531-1594)

CD Info

CD MEW 1579, CD ACC 24307.