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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016 Early Music

Compère Magnificat primi toni. Tant ay d’ennuy/O vos omnes. Dictes moy toutes voz pensées. Une plaisant fillette ung matin se leva. Vous me faites morir d’envie. Ung franc archier. Ne doibt on prendre quant on donne. Au travail suis sans espoir de confort. Mes pensées ne me lessent une heure. O bone Jesu The Orlando Consort Hyperion F CDA68069 (68’ • DDD • T/t)

For their second recording of the music of Loÿset Compère (their first was over twenty years ago – Metronome, 6/94), The Orlando Consort take the brave step of focusing almost exclusively on his songs. Brave, because 15th-century songs, with their use of wholesale repetition and uniformity of texture, require more patience of the uninitiated listener than much sacred music of the period, such that today’s ensembles often hesitate to tackle them. This may be especially true of Compère, whose songs can last around 10 minutes in performance. They are also very exposing of a singer’s technique: there really is nowhere to hide.

So much for the risks; now the rewards. Patience yields an appreciation of these pieces’ near-miraculous formal balance and strength of melodic invention, both essential for the music to sustain the repetitions just mentioned. Vous me faites mourir d’envie and Dictes moy toutes voz pensées are exemplary in these regards: they embody a mellifluous high style of chanson (reminiscent of Busnois at his most lyrical), which sees The Orlandos at their best. A contrasting tone is set in Une jeune fillette and Un franc archier, respectively racy and bumptious. These show Compère anticipating the more trenchant style in four voices that was to dominate the early 16th century. One wonders whether The Orlandos could have made greater play of the satire here, but this would arguably have detracted from Compère’s careful handling of sonority, which is wonderfully captured. The only real misjudgement concerns the singing of the text in the lower voice of Tant ay d’ennuy, which seems to me distracting and might better have been vocalised. The opening Magnificat is a little tentative in places and sounds recessed within the acoustic but the movingly simple O bone Jesu is very nicely done, whether or not Compère actually composed it. In any case, this project is a confident affirmation that all-vocal recordings of 15th-century songs are well worth making. Fabrice Fitch

Isaac Missa Misericordias Domini. Ave ancilla trinitatis. Ave regina caelorum. Inviolata. O decus Ecclesiae. Rogamus te. Quae est ista. Sub tuum praesidium Cantica Symphonia / Giuseppe Maletto Glossa F GCDP31908 (70’ • DDD • T/t)

Cantica Symphonia are a mixed vocal and instrumental ensemble long associated with the works of Guillaume Dufay, to whom they have devoted five discs. Giuseppe Maletto and the group now offer a whole album of works by Heinrich Isaac (c14501517) which includes the first recording of the Missa Misericordias Domini and a selection of motets, four of which are also previously unrecorded. That there is so much of Isaac’s output still to be explored on record should come as little surprise: not only was he prolific but he has often been eclipsed by his more famous contemporary, Josquin Desprez.

The disc opens with a sizeable setting of Ave regina caelorum, set to a spacious texture for four voices. The singers choose sprightly tempi for each invocation and create a bubbling sense of urgency through each of the carefully plaited lines. The Mass maintains this thoughtful but subtly urgent style, carefully balancing overall texture while maintaining the clarity of each vocal line and preserving the vocal personality of each singer. The voices are extraordinarily well matched and this CD continues Glossa’s tradition of recording with a single microphone pair. The sound is considered and mellow, yet each individual moment is brilliantly engaged, and it crackles with energy throughout.

Of the remaining motets, Inviolata and O decus Ecclesiae stand out for their sheer magnitude, and the addition of instruments to voices moves us from an intimate chapel sound towards a greater sense of occasion. Sinewy fiddles add a strident grain while sackbuts and slide trumpets bring both grandeur and wistfulness in equal measures. Inviolata in particular clearly presents Isaac’s slow, patient cantus firmus almost like a rope around which garlands of polyphony are woven, and in O decus Ecclesiae changeable tempi, unexpected on first hearing, gradually reveal themselves as wonderful moments of rejoicing and excitement. Edward Breen

Jacquet of Mantua Surge Petre. Missa Surge Petre. Ave Maria. O vos omnes. In illo tempore…Non turbetur. O pulcherrima inter mulieres. Domine, non secundum peccata nostra The Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice Hyperion F CDA68088 (77’ • DDD • T/t)

It has been fascinating to observe The Brabant Ensemble’s campaign in favour of the many neglected composers of the mid16th century. Next stop, Jacquet of Mantua (1483-1559). Director Stephen Rice presents a cogent analysis of the reasons for the neglect, and The Brabant Ensemble back him up with a very impressive programme, whose centrepiece is a sixvoice Mass based on Jacquet’s own motet Surge Petre. This is a weighty, substantial work, reminiscent of Gombert in its concentration. Just as impressive are the motets, ambitious pieces displaying considerable variety. The four-voice O vos omnes is deliciously focused and brooding, and the concluding Domine, non secundum peccata nostra monumental and full of strikingly retrospective touches (suggestive of a particular motivation for its composition). Two short three-voice motets further demonstrate the composer’s range: within this programme, they have the air of miniatures.

The sound image seems slightly fuller in the Mass and its model than in the ensuing selection of motets, perhaps because of their richer six-voice scoring. Rice evenhandedly states the case for thinking that

GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 23

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