Program: #20-16 Air Date: Apr 06, 2020
Rare works of Lupus Hellinck with the Brabant Ensemble, Juan Esquivel with the ensemble De Profundis, plus the new recording by the Gesualdo Six.
I. Juan Esquivel: Missa Hortus Conclusus (De Profundis/Eamonn Dougan). Hyperion CD CDA68326.
From MusicWeb International: To the best of my knowledge, Juan Esquivel has hitherto enjoyed only a walk-on part on anthologies; this is the first complete album devoted to his music. His setting of O vos omnes from the Good Friday liturgy features on an earlier (1996) Hyperion recording of Holy Week at the Chapel of the Dukes of Braganza, performed by A Capella Portuguesa, directed by Owen Rees (CDA66867, Archive Service or download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk). Typically, Hyperion included music by several little-known composers on that earlier recording, and the new Esquivel continues that tradition by including the motet by Ceballos on which the Mass is based.
Other recordings by De Profundis are advertised in the new booklet: I thought highly of their recording of Vivanco, directed by Robert Hollingworth (CDA68257), as also Ribera’s Magnificats and motets directed by David Skinner (CDA68141). Now, with a third director, they turn their attention to another Iberian composer of the renaissance period who has languished under the shadow of the better-known Golden Age masters. Much as I love the music of Morales, Guerrero and Victoria, especially the latter, whose work I sometimes think preferable even to Palestrina, it’s very good also to hear the unfamiliar.
Part of the neglect in Esquivel’s case has been due to the fact that it was not until comparatively recently that the great bulk of his music was discovered. A massive collection, dated 1613, had been hidden at the time of the Spanish civil war.
The opening Regina cæli is a setting of one of the four antiphons to the Virgin Mary, which vary according to the season. The rest of the music on the new recording is dominated by Esquivel’s Mass based on Rodrigo de Ceballos’ setting of a text from the Song of Songs – A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride. The concept of the enclosed or walled garden had been central to medieval iconography in both secular and sacred contexts, from the Garden of the Rose in the courtly love poem Le Roman de la Rose to poems in praise of the Virgin Mary. The two are often difficult to differentiate.
It’s always helpful, though not strictly necessary, to have the underlying tune before the Mass based on it, as is done on this recording. The Mass itself is punctuated by other settings, though these are not intended to represent a liturgical reconstruction. Thus, between the Gloria and Credo we have the Advent Vespers antiphon Veni, Domine. And instead of the Offertory, the Benedictus antiphon for Corpus Christi, Ego sum panis vitis – at least, with its reference to Christ’s body as living bread, that’s not inappropriate in this eucharistic context.
Rather unusually, Esquivel sets the closing dismissal, Ite missa est, normally chanted, to which De Profundis add the congregational response Deo gracias.
The rest of the programme contains music for the evening services of Vespers and Compline. All in all, it makes for a very satisfying sampler of a composer from whom I hope to hear much more. All the performances are well up to the standard that we have come to expect from De Profundis, ably directed by Eamonn Dougan, a distinguished baritone and assistant director of The Sixteen, whom he has directed to excellent effect on some of their recordings, as, for example, on Pękiel’s Missa Concertata, which I thought ‘well worth your acquaintance’ (Coro COR16110 – DL News 2013/8).
Neither Pękiel nor Esquivel is ever likely to displace the likes of Victoria, Palestrina, Tallis or Byrd in the general estimation, but both are well worth getting to know under Dougan’s direction, even if the music or the performance – or both – fails slightly to reach the heights and plumb the depths that one associates with Iberian music of this period. In the quieter, more reflective music such as the Alma Redemptoris Mater (track 11) I have no reservations at all.
I seem to be becoming more critical of recordings where the diction is not totally clear. It may be a new obsession of mine, but that was my one reservation about the Hellinck and Lupi recording from the Brabant Ensemble, mentioned above. It didn’t mar my enjoyment of that recording, and it hasn’t marred my appreciation of the Esquivel. In some places, such as those alternating parts of the Magnificat (tr.12) where smaller forces are involved, the diction is perfectly clear.
Now let’s have more of Esquivel’s music and more from De Profundis and Eamonn Dougan, together or separately.
Juan ESQUIVEL (c.1560-before 1630)
Regina cæli [2:15]
Rodrigo de CEBALLOS (c.1530-1581)
Hortus conclusus [4:36]
Missa Hortus conclusus; Kyrie and Gloria [2:06 + 5:06]
Veni Domine [1:52]
Missa Hortus conclusus; Credo [8:22]
Ego sum panis vitis [2:34]
Missa Hortus conclusus; Sanctus and Agnus Dei [3:13 + 2:53]
Ite missa est – Deo gracias [1:05]
Alma redemptoris mater [4:39]
Magnificat quinti toni [8:38]
Ave Regina cælorum [3:16]
Nunc dimittis [3:35]
Sancta Maria [3:44]
Te lucis ante terminum [3:15]
Salve Regina [8:10]
II. Johannes Lupi — Lupus Hellinck (The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice). Hyperion CD CDA68305.
The Brabant Ensemble continues to expand the range of Franco-Flemish Renaissance polyphony recordings, with works by two of the ‘wolf pack’, composers whose names were derived from the Latin lupus. Lupus (Wulfaert) Hellinck (c1494-1541) was based in Bruges: his five-voice Missa Surrexit pastor bonus is based on a motet by the Vatican composer Andreas de Silva. Johannes Lupi (c1506-39) was a boy chorister and subsequently director of music at Cambrai Cathedral: the recording contains three of his motets (including the magnificent eight-voice Salve celeberrima virgo) and a through-composed Te Deum.
Critics have already praised the release for the ‘accuracy and beauty of the singing and the transparency of the recording’ (BBC Radio 3 Record Review), and as ‘the pinnacle of refined singing and thoughtful scholarship’ (MusicWeb International), and have singled out Salve celeberrima virgo as ‘ravishingly beautiful’ (The Sunday Times) and for its ‘rich, velvety texture thrillingly permeated with the spirit of [Nicolas] Gombert’ (Gramophone)
Relatively few Renaissance composers set the Te Deum canticle: Winfried Kirsch’s comprehensive catalogue of Latin settings up to the mid-sixteenth century lists thirty-six named composers from the Continent, plus another thirty anonymous settings, though he also mentions half a dozen works from later in the century, by composers such as Lassus and Guerrero. Very few settings are found in multiple sources, of which that by Andreas De Silva, composer of the motet on which Lupus Hellinck’s Mass is based, is the most widespread. Moreover, nearly all of the manuscripts in which Te Deum settings are found contain only one example, and for instance the large collection of Cappella Sistina and Cappella Giulia manuscripts from the Vatican yields just two Te Deums, one by Lupi’s near contemporary Costanzo Festa (c1488–1545), and the other a much earlier setting by Gilles Binchois (c1400–1460). This canticle thus stands in stark contrast to the Magnificat, polyphonic settings of which were ubiquitous at this time—Kirsch in the same volume lists over a thousand, many of which were distributed widely.
Lupi’s setting is in a minority even within the small group of Te Deums, in treating every verse (following the short plainchant intonation) in polyphony: about three quarters of the works listed by Kirsch are alternatim settings. Of the fully polyphonic settings, most group the canticle’s twenty-nine verses to make a tripartite motet form, usually verses 1–10 (praise of God), 11–19 (praise of the Trinity and Christ) and 20–29 (prayers). Those which observe the verse form most frequently fall into thirty-one sections, dividing verse 5 into three subsections (Holy, / holy, / holy Lord God of hosts). Lupi follows this practice but also divides the final verse into two by adding a repeat of the last two words, ‘in aeternum’: the only other composer to treat the last verse in this way is Clemens non Papa, though the remainder of Clemens’s setting is alternatim. Both Clemens’s and Lupi’s settings are found in manuscripts from Cambrai, conceivably indicating a local performance tradition. Cambrai was of course Lupi’s home city: indeed another of its music manuscripts bears the composer’s signature added during his boy chorister years (the image was reproduced by Blackburn in her article on the two composers in The Musical Quarterly of 1973—Lupi punningly describes himself as ‘enfant de choeur’, writing a heart [coeur] shape instead of the final word).
Highlights of Lupi’s setting include the threefold ‘Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth’ which builds to a strong climax through the three subsections. Section 13, ‘Patrem immensae maiestatis’, has a striking upward stepping motif, with the tenor part in syncopation. In the first half of the canticle, Lupi alternates between triple and duple time, and the last of the triple-time (tempus perfectum) sections is No 16, ‘Tu rex gloriae, Christe’, a short and explosive exclamation in which the tenor part is a simple statement of the plainchant melody, in turn imitated by the soprano, and worked in inversion by the alto and bass.
The texture is varied on several occasions in the latter part of the canticle. Section 19 is a duet for soprano and alto, with substantial semiminim motion in the alto, and both sections 23 and 27 are trios omitting respectively the bass and soprano parts. Section 27 is rather starkly different from most of the other verses in terms of its texture, being written in pure fauxbourdon. The altus voice has no notated music at this point, but instead bears the inscription ‘Et laudamus quere cum tenore in dyatessaron’ (‘look for the et laudamus in the tenor part, at the fourth [above]’). The bassus is mostly in thirds with the tenor, moving out to a fifth at the two cadences (and hence to an octave with the altus). The overall feel is of a considerably earlier repertory than the rest of the work.
As noted above, Lupi adds a final section which repeats the last two words; this is in triple time for the first time since the midpoint of the piece, though this time in a proportional notation which implies a faster tempo. The canticle is rounded off with a rapid rising phrase in stretto.
Lupus HELLINCK (Wulfaert Hellingk) (1493/94-1541)
Missa Surrexit pastor bonus [32:09]
Johannes LUPI (Jean Leleu) (c.1506-1539)
Salve celeberrima virgo [9:40]
Quam pulchra es [6:48]
Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel [3:49]
Te Deum laudamus [17:55]
III. Fading (The Gesualdo Six/Owain Park). Hyperion CD CDA68285.
Since the fourth century, the service of Compline has marked the end of the day, ushering in the darkness of the night. Much of the music here is inspired by this ancient service. The first half of the album features a selection of atmospheric works that relate to the transition between light and darkness. Then there is a turning point; the light returns, birds sing, and flowers bloom once moreThe earliest known settings of the ancient Compline hymn Te lucis ante terminum appear as plainsong versions in Catholic liturgical books from the mid-sixteenth century. In this intimate setting by Thomas Tallis, included in the 1575 Cantiones sacrae, two verses of the chant frame a simple five-voiced middle section in which the highest voice sings the melody. Tallis’s craft is reserved for the lower parts which subtly bring out the nuances of the text, a prime example of this being the wide-eyed chord that heralds the night’s ghostly company (‘phantasmata’).
The music of Carlo Gesualdo has always been a cornerstone of our repertoire, starting with his extraordinary Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, which we performed at our first concert. Gesualdo’s music is well known for its extreme style, with chromatic melodies creating dissonant and disjointed harmonic progressions that illuminate the most melancholy aspects of the dark texts he set. The sacred motet Illumina faciem tuam, with its startling harmonic shifts and expressive word-painting, is typical of the composer: listen for the gradual build-up between ‘salvum me’ (‘save me’) and ‘quoniam invocavi te’ (‘for I have called upon thee’), as the tension grows through ever more insistent repetitions.
Written while he was a student at St John’s College in Cambridge, Look down, O Lord by Jonathan Seers sets words from the service of Compline. At the opening, cascading short motifs mark out the harmonic territory, before the voices join together on the word ‘illuminate’. Two ascending melodies then begin in the lower voices, leading towards brass-like chords for ‘brightness’ and ‘banish’. At the end of the work the voices divide into two groups as the music disappears into the night.
Among the earliest known Christian hymns, Phos hilaron (‘Gladdening light’) can be dated to at least the fourth century on account of its inclusion in the Apostolic Constitutions—prescriptive texts compiled in the Syrian region in the 370s AD. Contemplating the dying light of the evening, the hymn has traditionally been associated with the ritual lighting of candles, and Owain Park’s 2017 setting, which features a solo line accompanied by soft-grained chords, evokes both the literal and spiritual contrast between darkness and illumination. The piece was written for Compline services in Cambridge and later morphed into a larger work that has been recorded by The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, on their 2018 album of Owain Park’s choral works.
Joanna Marsh is a British composer who has been living in Dubai since 2007 and is currently Composer in Residence at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Both Fading and Seeds in flight come from Arabesques, a set of four pieces composed for The King’s Singers in 2015. These are settings of short but highly evocative poems by contemporary male Arab poets, each telling the story of a woman they have known. Fading sets words by the Iraqi poet Abboud al Jabiri, who likens an ageing woman to a bird shedding plumage. To achieve this image, Marsh constantly shifts the voice groupings and harmonies so that the music rarely feels still. Seeds in flight tells of how a woman finds rebirth after her death, with Marsh this time regularly resolving to the same minor chord before finally breaking out into an uplifting chord sequence at the end. Throughout, gentle dissonances colour important moments in the text, such as at ‘whispers’, ‘magic’ and ‘miracle’.
William Byrd’s Lullaby ‘My sweet little baby’ was one of the composer’s most popular works during his lifetime, enjoying a wide circulation in various arrangements. Here we sing the opening section, a heart-rending verse in which the virgin Mary comforts her child in the wake of the slaughter of the innocents. The melody in the highest voice is echoed throughout by the second part, creating an almost sobbing effect.
Veljo Tormis was a lifelong evangelist for his country’s folk-song tradition, as evidenced by his Four Estonian lullabies, all largely unembellished settings of traditional tunes. Marjal aega magada (‘It’s time for the little berry to sleep’) has the quality of a lament, with the emphasis placed on the second beat of each bar, so the music never quite settles. Each accompanying part in Laulan lapsele (‘I sing for my child’) repeats a short individual motif, with these stated consecutively to build up the texture over which the melody is presented. In Lase kiik käia! (‘Let the cradle swing!’) Tormis sets an undulating folk melody with great economy of gesture, providing a simple rocking accompaniment in the outer voices. In Äiutus (‘Lulling’), Tormis sets a gentle three-note melody over slow-moving chromatic chords and a low bass drone—a valedictory setting that drifts off into the distance as the chords cease moving and the finally melody disappears.
Known for his dense complex polyphony, Nicolas Gombert was one of the last exponents of the influential Franco-Flemish School, which included several generations of Renaissance composers from the region loosely known as the ‘Low Countries’. In the six-voice motet Media vita, each phrase is worked out in slow passages of imitation. Unlike his predecessor and mentor Josquin des Prez, Gombert used irregular numbers of voice entries and avoided precise divisions of phrases, resulting in a flowing, continuous sonic landscape. Listen out for the dissonances around ‘Sancte Deus’ and ‘Sancte fortis’—Gombert often employed these false relations for emotional effect—as the music cries out to God for help.
A contemporary of Tallis, Christopher Tye’s name appears primarily in connection with King Edward VI, as he was allegedly the king’s music teacher. Although highly respected in his day, very little of his music remains. The polyphonic verse Ad te clamamus is the middle section of the full Salve regina text, which hints to the possibility that this could be a surviving fragment of a complete polyphonic setting. As might be expected, the ‘groaning and weeping’ in the text is portrayed by low-lying vocal writing, the long melismatic phrases interwoven to create a mellifluous texture for the ‘vale of tears’.
Versa est in luctum was composed by Alonso Lobo for the funeral of King Philip II of Spain in 1598. The liturgical tradition of the time dictated that a sermon should be preached at the end of the Requiem Mass before administering the last rites. In some instances a motet was sung between the oration and the absolution: Lobo’s Versa est in luctum is such a piece. The text vividly describes heavenly harps, organs and voices in lyrical mourning. A six-voice texture is maintained almost throughout, capturing the text’s anguish in descending melodic lines and wonderfully dark harmonic colours.
Luca Marenzio wrote twenty-three books of madrigals, and his 1581 setting of Potrò viver io più se senza luce is an excellent example of his style. The text questions whether life has any meaning without ‘light’, perhaps indicating that the protagonist’s beloved has died. The speaker now longs for death and to be with God, the ‘true light’. Marenzio emphasizes the expressive details of the text with surprising chromatic twists embedded in a dense network of motifs—a musical tapestry also found in the early Baroque works of Monteverdi.
Gregorian chant has run through sacred music for more than a millennium, and the earliest piece included on this album is an example of this beautiful monody. Twelfth-century polymath and religious icon Saint Hildegard of Bingen was a prolific composer of devotional pieces. In its complete form, O Ecclesia celebrates Saint Ursula, a martyr and leader of early Christians; in the opening section presented here, Hildegard begins not with Ursula herself, but with the greater church whose visionary faith in Christ was Ursula’s calling. Some of the hallmarks of Hildegard’s writing are clearly evident: phrases that begin with the leap of a fifth, and end by dropping just below the expected final note before resolving upwards.
My heart is like a singing bird is a beguiling setting of Christina Rossetti’s A birthday by American composer Sarah Rimkus. The work was written for The Gesualdo Six’s first composition competition in 2016, and has remained one of our favourite pieces to perform. At the outset, duetting voices deliver the poem over a repeating heartbeat figuration, before a gradual increase in tempo and dynamic leads into a more animated middle section. Winding down, the music refers back to the opening gestures, the voices gradually dropping out until a single note is left hanging.
O little rose, O dark rose by Canadian composer Gerda Blok-Wilson sets a poem by another Canadian, Charles Roberts. The words express a mutual love that cannot be: one is free-spirited and ‘Carmenesque’, the other is from the ‘other side of the world’ and yearns to be with this ‘little rose’. Blok-Wilson was attracted to this poem for both its sweet and dark elements, each of which are brought out through sensitive and delicate writing, creating a piece with the timeless quality of a folk song.
Te lucis ante terminum Thomas Tallis (c.1505 – 1585)
Illumina faciem tuam Carlo Gesualdo (1566 – 1613)
Look down, O Lord Jonathan Seers (b.1954)
Phos hilaron Owain Park (b.1993)
Fading Joanna Marsh (b.1970)
Lullaby ‘My Sweet Little Baby’ William Byrd (c.1540 – 1623)
Marjal aega magada Veljo Tormis (1930 – 2017)
Media vita Nicholas Gombert (1495 – 1560)
Laulan lapsele Veljo Tormis
Ad te clamamus (Salve Regina) Christopher Tye (c.1505 – 1572/3)
Lase kiik käia! Veljo Tormis
Versa est in luctum Alonso Lobo (1555 – 1617)
Potrò viver io più se senza luce Luca Marenzio (c.1553 – 1599)
Seeds in flight Joanna Marsh
O Ecclesia, oculi tui Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179)
My heart is like a singing bird Sarah Rimkus (b.1990)
O Little Rose, O Dark Rose Gerda Blok-Wilson (b.1955)
Âiutus (Lullaby) Veljo Tormis
Juan ESQUIVEL (c.1560-before 1630), Rodrigo de CEBALLOS (c.1530-1581), Lupus (Wulfaert) Hellinck (c1494-1541), Johannes Lupi (c1506-39), Thomas Tallis (c.1505 – 1585), Carlo Gesualdo (1566 – 1613), Jonathan Seers (b.1954), Owain Park (b.1993), Joanna Marsh (b.1970), William Byrd (c.1540 – 1623), Veljo Tormis (1930 – 2017), Nicholas Gombert (1495 – 1560), Christopher Tye (c.1505 – 1572/3), Alonso Lobo (1555 – 1617), Luca Marenzio (c.1553 – 1599) , Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179), Sarah Rimkus (b.1990), Gerda Blok-Wilson (b.1955)
Hyperion CD CDA68326, Hyperion CD CDA68305, Hyperion CD CDA68285