Roland de Lassus: Three Recent Sacred Discs

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Program: #20-44   Air Date: Oct 19, 2020

The latest from the Cappella Amsterdam, “Laudate Dominum” from the Studio de Musique Ancienne in Montreal, and more of the Psalms from Die Singphoniker.

I. Orlando di Lasso: Laudate Dominum (Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal/Andrew McAnerney). Atma CD ACD2 2746.

Orlando di Lasso
The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal presents Orlando di Lasso: Laudate Dominum dedicated to the memory of the late Christopher Jackson, SMAM’s founder and first director. Jackson, for whom Lassus was a favorite composer, launched this project as a concert in March 2015. This album is the second in a series of recordings of Lassus’ works and follows the first album Lagrime di San Pietro ATMA ACD2 2509, which was released in 2010. It won an Opus prize as Early-Music Disc of the Year. SMAM’s new conductor, Andrew McAnerney, completed the Laudate Dominum project and directs the ensemble on his first recording with the Studio.

The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal consists of 10 to 13 singers chosen for the remarkable clarity and purity of their voices. The ensemble is often accompanied by period instruments in performances of Renaissance and Baroque choral masterpieces, and has made 20 widely acclaimed recordings, including several on the ATMA label.

From HB Direct: British chorus master Andrew McAnerney succeeds to the late Christopher Jackson as the new artistic director of the Studio de musique ancienne de Montreal. For his first recording with the Studio, McAnerney has chosen motets by Orlando di Lasso. McAnemey was raised in the British choral tradition and studied music at the University of Oxford. Since graduating, Andrew has enjoyed a varied musical career as a conductor, consort singer, soloist and arranger. In the domain of sacred music, di Lasso's motets are considered more original than his masses. The composer took great care in choosing texts to set, and reflected their rhetoric with perfect conviction. He poured out fresh ideas, managed polyphonic procedures with unmatched ease, and showed an original and generous sense of melody. Some motets on this recording are for 12 voices in two choirs. The Studio de musique ancienne de Montreal consists of 10 to 13 singers chose from the remarkable clarity and purity of their voices. The ensemble is often accompanied by period instruments in performances of Renaissance and Baroque choral masterpieces, and has made 20 widely acclaimed recordings, including several on the ATMA label. 
 
>Lassus, Orlando de : Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, motet for 12 voices, M. xviii (S. xxi/152)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Bone Jesu verbum patris, motet for 8 voices, M. xxi (S. xix/154)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Cantiones sacrae à 6 (30)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Te Deum laudamus, motet for 6 voices, M. vi (S. xix/24)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Dixit Martha, motet for 9 voices, M. xviii (S. xxi/98)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Mira loquor sed digna fide, motet for 10 voices, M. xviii (S. xxi/126)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Domine Dominus noster, motet for 6 voices, M. xviii (S. xvii/39)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Alma Redemptoris mater
>Lassus, Orlando de : Beatus Nicolaus, motet for 8 voices, M. xviii (S. xxi/23)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Omnia tempus habent, motet for 8 voices, M. xv (S. xxi/77)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Laudate Dominum quoniam bonus est, motet for 7 voices, M. vi (S. xix/106)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Musica Dei donum optimi, motet for 6 voices, M. xvi (S. xix/63)
>Lassus, Orlando de : Aurora lucis rutilat, motet for 10 voices, M. xxii (S. xxi/119)
 

II. Orlando di Lasso: Psalms (die Singphoniker) CPO CD 555 264-2.

Orlando di Lasso: Psalmus Product Image
 
Following the successful CDs Hymnus and Magnificat with music by Orlando di Lasso the Singphoniker are now concluding their Lasso cycle with a recording of his complete Penitential Psalms. It was around 1559 that the Bavarian Duke Albrecht V commissioned a manuscript in which the textual, pictorial, and musical dimensions were to be combined. Orlando di Lasso was assigned the task of setting the seven Penitential Psalms, a group of texts regarded as a unit since ancient times, and rounded off this work with praise of God in the form of a motet on Psalms 148 and 150.  Lasso set the texts verse by verse, in this way drawing on an old liturgical model for Psalm settings. This method means that relatively short textual units produce a self-contained musical whole with component parts of rather limited extent; the musical form, the structure of the composition of an entire psalm, is developed from the design of the text. Just how very much the composer was thinking of the traditional manner of singing is shown in particular by the sixth Penitential Psalm, in which he bases his setting on the monophonic liturgical singing of psalms in the Lydian mode and uses it as a cantus firmus. It is certainly no coincidence that in the nineteenth century the first significant edition of Lassos music was dedicated to the Penitential Psalms: Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn (who, by the way, taught Clara Schumann and Mikhail Glinka) published it in 1838. This is finely crafted and highly impressive music and again and again the Singphoniker amaze us with their sonorous renderings of it.
 
 

CD 1:  Psalmus I - IV

1Primus Psalmus

2Secundus Psalmus

3Tertius Psalmus

4Quartus Psalmus

CD 2: Psalmus V - VII & Laudes Domini

1Quintus Psalmus

2Sextus Psalmus

3Septimus Psalmus

4Laudes Domini

 

III.    Roland de Lassus: Inferno (Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss). Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902650.

From The Classic Review: This new album from Daniel Reuss and the Cappella Amsterdam covers selections from Orlando de Lassus’ secular music. The texts are rather gloomy — Ecclesiastes, requiem prayers, reflections on suffering — but Lassus’ compositional milieu didn’t allow him (or didn’t teach him) to write anything as downcast or explicit as we might expect today. The music is calm and reflective, only hinting at its meaning with symbolism.Reuss and the Cappella take a fresh, flexible, entirely unpretentious approach to this music. For example, on the very first track, as the text vacillates between various moods (“a time to kill and a time to heal / a time to weep and a time to laugh”), tempos and diction evolve freely with each word, within reasonable, artful constraints. On the words “weep” and “mourn,” there is the slightest slackening of morale, and an immediate rushing back on the words “laugh” and “dance,” respectively.

The same playfulness appears in track 10, a setting of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as the lower voices use a full tone to represent Paul speaking as himself, while the upper voices stick to a lighter sound to sing the refrain “as a child.” Even when singing the most conservative track on the album, a Gregorian antiphon (track 4) that serves as a prelude to a Lassus setting of the same (track 5), there is elegance in place of the rigidity that often accompanies Gregorian chant. The tenors, singing by themselves, indulge in small shimmers of vibrato on the word “sancte” (“holy”), and phrases have momentum. We hear the antiphon as the bitter reflection that it is, not just notes in a row.

Neither, on the other hand, is Reuss guilty of imposing his will on every piece. The pieces with more straightforward structures are let to unfold more uniformly, undisturbed by explicit artistic choices (tracks 5 and 9, for example). Additions of very subtle phrasing enhance Lassus’ melodies.

The choir, a sixteen-voice subset of the full Cappella, is in excellent technical form throughout the album. Vocal parts are doubled and intonation within each pair is precise, like a dance troupe moving in perfect unison. The polyphony emerges like calligraphy from the parts’ interactions, and the harmonic relations between the parts are no less precise. Each fifth is tall and supple, and the thirds remarkably warm. The low end is particularly impressive, and has been captured carefully by the engineers. These basses sound just as resonant on the lower half of the staff as the upper, their voices not losing any warmth or strength (e.g. track 6), and their occasional moments of close harmony are never muddied.

Recorded in the Waalse Kerk (Walloon Church) in Amsterdam, the album’s acoustics are a delicious balance of up-close and resonant. The singers sound truly velvety, even in forceful moments. I struggle to remember the last time I heard a choir recorded this well — Les Cris de Paris’ superb “passions” comes close, also (perhaps not surprisingly) from Harmonia Mundi. This album should be more than sufficient to win over any Renaissance-choral-music skeptics, and will provide those of us who are already converts with many happy hours.

Motets for six and eight voices:

Omnia tempus habent
Audi tellus
Ad Dominum cum tribularer
Media vita in morte sumus
Circumdederunt me dolores mortis
Libera me Domine
Recordare Jesu pie
Deficiat in dolore vita mea
Vidi calumnias
O mors quam amara
Cum essem parvulus
Vide homo

 

Composer Info

Orlando di Lasso

CD Info

Atma CD ACD2 2746, CPO CD 555 264-2, CD HMM 902650