GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2018
Compère ‘Music for the Duke of Milan’ Agricola Ave Domina Sancta Maria a 4. Ave, pulcherrima regina a 3. L’homme banni a 3. Tota pulchra es Compère Missa Galeazescha. Ave Maria gratia plena Lübeck Etzliche Punctenn aus einer Sonade. Sonatas – No 6; No 100 J Martini La Martinella. Toujours bien Weerbeke Ave, stella matutina a 4. Christi mater, ave. Mater digna Dei. Virgo Maria Odhecaton; La Pifarescha; La Reverdie; Ensemble Pian&Forte / Paolo Da Col Arcana F A436 (65’ • DDD • T/t)
This is only the third anthology devoted to Loyset Compère, whose 500th deathanniversary falls next year; but it is a fitting commemoration, for both music and performance are on a pleasingly high level. It recreates the music at the court of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan, a colourful and aesthetic megalomaniac whose obsession with women and hunting was equalled only by a determination to establish a chapel choir to rival those of more illustrious rulers. Compère joined the ensemble two years before Galeazzo’s spectacular murder in 1476 resulted in a mass clear-out. He and his colleague Gaspar van Weerbeke were among the most renowned composers of the time, and enough music survives to suggest that those years must indeed have been splendid.
The recital’s centrepiece is the so-called Missa Galeazescha, a cycle of motets likely intended for performance while Mass was being said. This is interleaved with other motets by Weerbeke and Agricola, bringing together several ensembles in different combinations (including as soloist the organist Liuwe Tamminga, playing on a Bolognese instrument built in the very decade the music was composed).That voices and instruments combined as they do here in some movements of the Missa Galeazescha is by no means a given, but the groups are so well blended (and indeed opulent) that one imagines that Galeazzo would have been delighted. In fact, the variety of approaches on offer is one of this disc’s most attractive aspects. Two moments stand out for me: Tamminga’s rendering of organ intabulations (particularly Weerbeke’s Virgo Maria), an awe-inspiring sound; and a passage in the Missa Galeazescha when Compère abruptly switches styles, as though directly grafting a popular lauda into his music. At this point voices give way to instruments altogether; it’s a very moving moment. Fabrice Fitch
Ludford Missa Videte miraculum. Alleluia, ora pro nobis. Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitatis. Hac clara die turma. Ninefold Kyrie The Choir of Westminster Abbey / James O’Donnell org Hyperion F CDA68192 (63’ • DDD • T/t)
The modern reputation of Nicholas Ludford (c1490-1557) was really sealed by the first recordings of The Cardinall’s Musick in the early 1990s (ASV Gaudeamus, 7/93, 12/93, 7/94, 1/95). These pioneering discs transformed Ludford from being considered a bridge – linking Robert Fayrfax with John Taverner – to one of the most prolific composers of Masses in Tudor England and a great pre-Reformation musician. Having been largely the preserve of specialist vocal consorts it’s great to hear Ludford sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey, and this album joins another notable recent release by Trinity Boys Choir (Rondeau, 12/17) to perform his music in a choral setting.
The opening Ninefold Kyrie, with nimble organ versets from old and new sources, showcases the smooth sound of the Lay Vicars, who comprise some of our leading consort singers. They forge a richly sonorous sound in the generous acoustic of All Hallows, Gospel Oak, and the organ (recorded in St Mary Undercroft, Westminster) offers a sprightly contrast.
O’Donnell treads a conservative path through the richly textured Missa Videte miraculum. In the Gloria the Lay Vicars create a luscious, serene opening which the treble voices later expand into a full sixpart texture. The sound is wonderful, yet I notice they never fully capitalise on Ludford’s ecstatic cascades of imitative writing, notably at ‘Gratias agimus tibi’. There is a sense of some slight, almost statuesque withholding. Overall I find the treble sound more rounded than the Choir of New College’s Missa Benedicta (K617, 8/08); and although I have a lasting fondness for the metallic feistiness of Higginbottom’s choir, I do find that O’Donnell encourages really graceful long‑arced phrases from his trebles and maintains an overall more consistent tone. The finest singing on this disc, however, is undoubtedly Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitatis: an exceptional work and a superb performance. The choir are heard at their finest in the more impassioned moments, of which this votive antiphon offers many. Edward Breen (3/18)
Machaut ‘Sovereign Beauty’ Comment qu’a moy lonteinne. Dame, a qui. Dame, ne regardés pas. De Bon Espoir/Puis que la douce/Speravi. De desconfort. Foy porter. J’ay tant/Lasse! Je sui/Ego moriar pro te. Un lay de consolation, ‘Pour ce que plus proprement’. Quant j’ay l’espart. Se quanque Amours. Tres bonne et belle The Orlando Consort Hyperion F CDA68134 (64’ • DDD • T/t)
I’ve hardly been stinting in my praise of the previous instalments of this series, but this is finer still. The lovely three-part virelai Tres bonne et belle teems with incident, the interplay of the voices a constant delight. More surprising are the melodic coups de théâtre of the two-voice ballades Dame ne regardés pas and De desconfort, the latter reminiscent of Binchois (and incidentally, wouldn’t an Orlandos disc devoted to that other great poetcomposer be welcome!). The centrepieces are the fastidiously crafted ballade Se quanque Amours (reminiscent of Solage) and the two-voice Lay de consolation, a wonderfully judged postscript. Throw in a couple of motets and a few monophonic virelais (a genre which The Orlandos have down to a tee), and you have Machaut at his most engaging and varied; but this really is one bullseye after another.
20 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2018
Click on album covers to buy from gramophone.co.uk