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Raphael: The Music of the Courtier
Josquin des PRES (1480-1520) Victimae paschali; A l’heure que je vous
Heinrich ISAAC (c.1450-1517) J’ay pris amours; Easter Mass
Loyset COMPERE (c.1450-1518) Crux triumphans; Chef a la ramacina; Scaramella
Francisco SPINACINO (fl.1507) Ricercare; Malor me bat
Marchetto CARA (1465-1525) Mentre io vo per questi boschi
Francesco da MILANO (1497-1543) Ricercar (88); Ricercar La Compagna
Orlando Consort; I Fagiolini; Concordia; Christopher Wilson (lute)
Recording dates and venue not given
The National Gallery promotion
METRONOME MET CD 1075 [62.18]


This CD was launched in November 2004 to mark the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery in London, one of the most popular exhibitions ever staged. Raphael was one of the most popular artists in many ways although the perfection of his work seems more Godlike than human. The music chosen here is both sacred and secular and also links in, somewhat confusingly, with a book by Baltassare Castiglione, a man whose sympathetic portrait Raphael had painted. The advertising for the CD tells us that "The classic book ‘The Book of the Courtier’ was the starting point for this recording", and it continues ".... the book contains detailed discussion of the court music of Raphael’s time in Urbino, his birthplace."

Castiglione says at one point (Penguin edition page 319) that the courtier should possess "many virtues, such as justice, generosity and magnanimity, which his own greatness will enable him to practise easily until it becomes habitual". And of Raphael, Vasari comments ..."an artist as talented as he was gracious, who was endowed by nature with the goodness and modesty to be found in all exceptional men" (Penguin Volume 1, page 285)

To chime in with its double subjects the CD gives us the sacred and secular: Raphael whose paintings mostly took religious subjects and Castiglione the urbane court intellectual. In addition the style of the music is very cosmopolitan. The Orlando Consort have been asked to record the sacred works; ‘I Fagiolini’ the secular vocal pieces, sadly only two. The viol consort ‘Concordia’ take part in four pieces. The lutenist Christopher Wilson plays one five tracks including two cool and elegant solos. All of these artists have recorded for Metronome before.

Josquin and Isaac were from the ‘Low Countries’ originally, although both worked in Italy. Isaac’s Easter Mass is the main work in terms of length and it ends the CD. I should add that we have here only the mass propers. These include, for example, the Graduale and the Communion suitable for the Easter festival. The mass movements such as the Gloria and Sanctus are absent. Mysteriously, the CD booklet does not print the texts of the propers although all other texts are given. I find this mass a rather ordinary piece measured by Isaac’s norm. Fortunately we are offered the composer’s beautiful setting ‘J’ay pris amours’ which attains his usual ingenious standard with its logical and powerful counterpoint. For contrast there are some lively frottola by Marchetto Cara who, we are told, gets a mention in Castiglione’s book. I could not find the reference in the Penguin Classics edition but never mind.

Christopher Wilson makes a delicious contribution with some solo tracks; especially attractive is a Ricercare by an Italian, Spinacino.

The Orlando Consort has recorded a complete disc of Compère back in 1993 (Metronome CD 1002-01) where they seem to me in better form than at present. On that earlier disc can be heard the short arrangement of the folk tune ‘Scaramella’ but not the glorious ‘Crux Triumphans’ heard here.

I have already alluded to the booklet notes. They are anonymous and adequate but some of the works and composers featured on the disc are not mentioned. However the booklet is adorned with some glorious Raphael images which are most delightful and beautifully reproduced.

I must add also that my disc has a fault in that tracks 6 to the end cannot be accessed separately except by searching through from track 5, so if you do decided to purchase this disc check this out first.

Sadly, I found it difficult to wholly recommend this disc although it sells at mid-price. It does however give an overall view of music around 1510 and as an introduction to the music of that era it may well be useful.

Gary Higginson

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