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Philippe de MONTE (1521-1603)
Miserere mei, Deus [3:06]; Missa Ultimi miei sospiri [23:01]; Magnificat sexti toni [5:36]; Ad te levavi [4:19]; Fratres, ego enim accepti [4:51]; Asperges me, Domine [4:05]; Gaudent in caelis animae Sanctorum [2:23]; Ne timeus, Maria [5:50]
Philippe VERDELOT (c.1470/80-pre-1552)
Ultimi miei sospiri [3:18]
Cinquecento Vocal Ensemble
rec. August 2007, Wallfahrtskirche, St Wolfgang bei Weitra, Austria
HYPERION CDA67658 [56:04]

 

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Although this is the third disc that the all-male renaissance vocal group Cinquecento have made for Hyperion I seemed to have missed their previous recordings. This has quite certainly been to my great loss. They offer very fine singing. You will notice this right from the first moments of the opening motet: the moving ‘Miserere mei, Deus’ which forms part of Psalm 56. They have tackled similar repertoire before, that is Music for Maximilian II, (CDA67579) and sacred music by Jacob Regnart: Missa super oeniades nymphae (CDA67640). These are fascinating and under-explored corners of Renaissance music which is their especial interest.
 

Philippe de Monte may well have been one of the most prolific composers of all time. No less than thirty-four books of madrigals were issued in his life-time. You certainly wouldn’t realise how prolific he had been by looking through the record catalogue. It is however possible that you have met some of his madrigals in anthology collections, both in print and on CD. It’s rather hard to say exactly, at this stage, what makes his style his own so it’s best if I run through the music with the help of the excellent and detailed programme notes written by Stephen Rice. 

One point worth making from the outset is that De Monte is not encumbered by vast swathes of imitative counterpoint the like of which haunt the music of older contemporary Gombert or his exact contemporary Lassus. Monte’s music is as expressive and as sensitive as any although its subtleties can take a little more effort to discover. It is this factor that might have been responsible for the music’s seeming anonymity and neglect. 

The Mass takes up the main bulk of the CD. It is based on a somewhat serious madrigal by another prolific master, the Frenchman Philippe Verdelot. For some reason Hyperion do not here adopt the usual practice of letting us hear the madrigal immediately before the Mass. Instead it is placed, somewhat curiously in my view at the end of the CD. My advice is that it should be heard first and a few times as well; then the subtleties of Monte’s Mass can be more fully appreciated. Each movement begins with a few bars from the madrigal’s opening and then sections of the madrigal appear from time to time within the Mass. Rice mentions ‘Domine Deus’ in the Gloria which takes the madrigal text ‘Dul tuo fidel (that your faithful one). Other sections are freely composed and also use conventional word-painting, ‘ascendit’ and ‘miserere nobis’, for instance. 

The motets can also have some subtle word-painting. For example in the motet ‘Fratres, ego enim accepi’ at the word ‘fregit’ (broke) the use of rapid notes could “symbolise the action of bread becoming crumbs” (Rice). The motet unusually, contrasts a text about the last supper with, as its second section a text from the Magnificat - Antiphon for Vespers on Corpus Christi. Why? Because this late-invented medieval feast is a celebration of the body of Christ which is still, in some European towns is paraded through the streets in the shape of bread or communion wafers, or a figure of the crucified Christ. 

Rice mentions musical symbolism quite often in his notes and I did find myself at first wondering if he had taken things a little too far. However on further acquaintance I decided that his philosophical and sometime theological points made sense. 

The Magnificat is succinct. The verses are sung ‘in alternatum’ with the plainsong also acting as the (elaborated) melody line in the polyphony. The motet ‘Ad te levavi’ is a good example of Monte’s word-painting with a very unusual octave jump in the top part between notes 2 and 3 for ‘levavi’ (Lift up). The rest of the work mixes homophony with gentle and un- complicated polyphony which would have appealed to the ‘Council of Trent’ and Pope Marcellus. 

‘Asperges me’ with words from Psalm 50 is also a setting ‘in alternatum’ with the plainsong as mere fragments breaking the text up into short sections. ‘Ne timeas, Maria’ shares in common with ‘Asperges me’ a major-sounding mode with more complex polyphony. Here the words are a paraphrase of St. Luke Chapter 1 ‘Fear not Mary, thou hast found favour with GOD’. 

My only disappointment with this disc is it slightly measly length at less than an hour. With a composer so little known, with such fine singers and with such a wealth of music awaiting discovery another couple of pieces, possibly even a madrigal or two to complement Verdelot's would not have been out of place. 

The church acoustic is excellent, adding a little shine but not taking away any clarity of diction or the wonderful blend of the voices. All texts with very good translations are available but the cover of the booklet has one of those odd fruit-and-tree-portraits by that extraordinary artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), a man who seems a million miles away from Monte’s conservative style. Still, there is also a photograph of the six men who make up Cinquecento. 

Gary Higginson





 


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