Renaissance Masters

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Program: #16-44   Air Date: Oct 24, 2016

The Brabant Ensemble with Pierre de la Rue, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois with Heinrich Isaac, and De Profundis with a world premiere recording of music by Bernardino de Ribera.

I. Pierre de la Rue (c.1452-1518) (Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice). Hyperion CD CDA68150.

From MusicWeb International:Search those reviews, several of them written by me, and you will discover them to be laden with so many superlatives that I’ve run out of anything to say about the performances, so I’ve simply given the new release Recording of the Month status, which says it all. As for the music of Pierre de La Rue, I see no reason why it has not been recorded as often as that of his contemporaries Josquin and Lassus. The massive headgear worn by the lady on the cover – thought to have been inspired by a 16th-century portrait of Juana ‘the mad’ – may look hopelessly dated but the music has an ethereal quality which transcends fashions and styles. I’ve taken more space recommending other recordings by the Brabant Ensemble and other recordings of the music of Pierre de La Rue than on the new release: that’s for the simple reason that I’m sure that having once heard the very fine Hyperion performances and recording most lovers of renaissance music – and probably many who have yet to discover that they are – will want to explore both the composer and the musicians further.

I need hardly add, since I’ve said that so many times, too, that a first-rate release is rounded off with an equally fine booklet, the excellent notes from Stephen Rice illustrated with some charming pictures from the hours of Queen Juana or Joanna. —Brian Wilson

La Rue was probably born at Tournai, in modern Belgium, and likely educated at the Notre-Dame Cathedral there, which had a substantial musical establishment. He may have been the son of Jean de la Rue, a master enlumineur of the town of Tournai.[2]

While no records remain of his childhood, a Peter vander Straten (the Flemish equivalent of his name) is mentioned in the archives of the cathedral of Ste. Gudule in Brussels in 1469-1470, as an adult (tenor) singer; this is considered very likely to have been him.[3] In 1471 he was in Ghent at the Jacobskerk as a part-time singer, paid from the cathedral's miscellaneous fund, suggesting he was brought in for special performances of polyphony. Subsequently he was employed in Nieuwpoort in 1472, at the church of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw, probably initially as a temporary arrangement, but by the end of the year the church authorities hired him on a more permanent basis. He was no longer employed there by 1477/8 for his name had vanished from the account-book.

His whereabouts during the 1480s are not very well known, although there is a record that he worked at a place called "St Ode" (date and city not known), and also possibly at the cathedral at Cambrai. Previous biographies of La Rue place him in Siena, Italy, between 1483 and 1485; however, it has been determined that the "La Rue" in the records there was a different singer. Pierre de la Rue probably never went to Italy, making him one of the few prominent Franco-Flemish composers of this generation never to travel there.[1]

In 1489 he was paid by the Confraternity of the Illustre Lieve Vrouwe in 's-Hertogenbosch, again as "Peter vander Straten", and the document indicates that he had come from Cologne, so he evidently had spent some time in Germany as a tenor singer. He remained at the Confraternity in 's-Hertogenbosch until 1492, at which time he simultaneously became a full member of the Confraternity, and joined the Grande chapelle of Holy Roman Emperor Maxmilian. He was to remain in the employ of the Habsburgs, and the Grande chapelle, for the rest of his life.

Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor 4vv [31:24]
Salve Regina VI 4vv [5:19]
Missa Inviolata 4vv [30:35]
Magnificat sexti toni 5vv [11:34]

II. Heinrich Isaac: Missa Virgo prudentissima (Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard). Evidence CD EVCD023.

Isaac: Missa 'Virgo prudentissima'

From Heinrich Isaac's six-voice cantus firmus Mass, Missa Virgo prudentissima, is a deeply serious work of pure and solemn beauty. It's performed here by the nine voices of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, directed by Dominique Vellard. They bring us Isaac's setting in the context of an entire Florentine Mass celebration, starting and ending with a Marian motet and with the Mass movements interespersed with plainchant passages.

The singers of the Ensemble consist of three sopranos, male alto, three tenors, baritone and bass. They are all fine voices, well contrasted and blending beautifully, resulting in exemplary clarity in the composer's increasingly complex polyphonic lines. This is one of the composer's most extended and serious works, not as ostensibly flattering to the ear as some other works by him or by his Franco-Flemish contemporaries. Rather it becomes richer and more complex as it progresses, to produce a deeply rewarding listening experience.

There is just a hint of impersonality in Isaac's setting, or perhaps rather in the manner of its performance here, which may render the work less appealing to some listeners. But there is no doubting the quality of Isaac's polyphonic writing, or the skill of the performance and its deeply considered direction by tenor Dominique Vellard. The plainchant passages interspersing the Mass movements are also quite substantial, amounting to around 20 minutes in all. But they are extremely well done by the ensemble, and the contrast with the successive sections of Isaac's composition works very well as a result.

Recorded sound, in the Convent of Saint Marc in Gueberschwir, Alsace, is excellent. Notes are also first-class, all texts and translations are provided, and the booklet also includes a reproduction of a beautiful Annunciation by the Flemish master Vrancke van Der Stockt as well as an engaging photo of the performers. Altogether, strongly recommended to all Franco-Flemish enthusiasts of a serious disposition.
1. GAUDEAMUS OMNES IN DOMINO / VIRGO PRUDENTISSIMA – à 4 voix (Choralis Constantinus II – H. Isaac)
2. SALVE SANCTA PARENS Introït, plain-chant
3. KYRIE ELEISON Missa Virgo Prudentissima
4. GLORIA Missa Virgo Prudentissima
5. BENEDICTA ET VENERABILIS ES Graduel, plain-chant
6. ALLELUIA, POST PARTUM plain-chant
7. ALLELUIA, VIRGA JESSE plain-chant
9. CREDO Missa Virgo Prudentissima
10. AVE MARIA Offertoire, plain-chant
11. PREFACE plain-chant
12. SANCTUS Missa Virgo Prudentissima
13. AGNUS DEI Missa Virgo Prudentissima
14. BEATA VISCERA Communion, plain-chant et polyphonie à 4 voix (Choralis Constantinus II – H. Isaac)

III. Bernardino de Ribera (c.1520-?1580) (De Profundis/David Skinner). Hyperion CD CDA68141.

Bernardino de RIbera

This recording, sponsored by the CEEH (Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica) is the first opportunity to listen to practically all the surviving music of Bernardino de Ribera (c. 1520–1580), who was chapel master at Ávila, Toledo and Murcia cathedrals and had an early influence on his pupils Tomás Luis de Victoria and Sebastián de Vivanco. His rich polyphony retains a strong flavour of earlier styles, often venturing into the expressive use of falsas, that Spanish way of “weeping in sharps and flats”.

This is the first album released by De Profundis. It was recorded at St George’s church in Cambridge and is made up almost entirely of unpublished pieces. The group’s director, David Skinner, is currently one of the most prominent scholars and conductors of early music. Bruno Turner – who had been wanting to publish the music of this fascinating, little-known maestro for a long time – has reconstructed and edited all the scores from badly damaged Spanish sources.

De Profundis, founded by Mark Dourish in 2011, is a hand-picked all-male vocal ensemble that performs Renaissance polyphony at the original low pitch. It is made up entirely of adult men, like the church and chapel choirs of the period.

—From the album notes: Among the many musical treasures that survive in the archives of Toledo Cathedral there is a great choirbook devoted entirely to works by ‘Bernardinus Ribera’. It is known to musicology as E-Tc6. Let’s call it the Ribera Codex. It was the work of Toledo’s renowned copyist Martin Pérez, and decorated with illuminations by Buitrago. Beautiful to behold, it is massive; bound in metal-studded, leather-covered wooden boards, the one hundred and fifty-nine parchment folios are resplendent in their fine musical notation with exquisite headings and decorated initials. Or so they should have been if we still had this volume as it was in 1570, copied in the final year of Ribera’s tenure as maestro de capilla. Many years later some vandal sliced out whole folios, presumably the most beautifully decorated, and he cut out many of the elaborate initials of the texts, thus creating holes which have swallowed the notation on the reverse. This vandalism probably happened in the eighteenth century. Little other damage or deterioration is to be seen. Its mutilated survival still constitutes the only source of the majority of the known compositions of this obscure maestro.

So much is missing from many of the compositions that they are beyond recovery. There were two full Lady Masses—Missae de beata virgine—one for four voices, the other for five. Both included the medieval tropes (Spiritus et alme … etc.), and polytextual passages such as the words and music of Ave Maria gratia plena being sung in several sections of the five-part Credo. It’s a shame that these Masses are not fully retrievable; twelve folios were torn from this part of the manuscript, and there are numerous vandal-holes in the pages that remain. With the motets we are more fortunate.

Although twenty-five folios (forty-eight pages of music) were torn out, we can confidently present six of the nine motets in the Ribera Codex with just a few small lacunae ‘repaired’. One missing page was recently found elsewhere, sliced in two; it restored the beginning of Regina caeli. We have lost most of an eight-voiced Ascendens Christus. Also irreparable is O quam speciosa festivitas, a special Toledo motet for St Eugenius (for six voices). An imposing Gloriosae virginis Mariae for eight voices lacks its beginning, but we have presented it with the first three words in plainsong and our editorial restoration of some missing voices in the first fourteen bars of polyphony.

The Codex ends with what should have been eight Magnificats, the first half of a set of sixteen, two (odd-verse and even-verse) to each of the eight Tones, polyphony alternating with the chanted recitation formulae. The Codex contains four of these pairs, setting Tones 1–4. We do not know if Ribera composed Magnificats to Tones 5–8. Sadly, only three of the existing set can be transcribed complete with minimal editorial patching. These are recorded here, each preceded and followed by appropriate plainsong antiphons.

Magnificat primus tonus

Magnificat secundus tonus

Rex autem David

Gloriosae virginis Mariae

Beata mater

Dimitte me ergo

Vox in Rama

Regina caeli

Virgo prudentissima

Conserva me, Domine

Assumpsit Jesus Petrum

Magnificat quartus tonus

Hodie completi sunt dies Pentecostes

Composer Info

Pierre de la Rue (c.1452-1518) , Heinrich Isaac, Bernardino de Ribera (c.1520-?1580)

CD Info

CDA68150, CD EVCD023, CD CDA68141.