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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Motet Masters of the Renaissance: Morales to Morley
Lodovico Grossi da VIADANA (1560-1627) Exultate justi
Pietro VINCI (1535-1584) Mirabile mysterium
Giovanni Maria NANINO (1543-1607) Adoramus te, Christe
Constanzo PORTA (1529-1601) Voce mea
Giovanni Francesco ANERIO (1567-1630) Requiem aeternam from Mass for the Dead (1614)
Orlande de LASSUS (1532-1594) Missa super Bella Amfitrit' Altera; Improprerium
Clemens non PAPA (1515-1556) Ave Maria
Cipriano de RORE (1516-1565) Jubilate Deo
Giaches de WERT (1535-1596)- Peccavi super numerum
Andrews RASELIUS (1563-1602) Eripe me de inimicis
Jacob HANDL (1550-1591) Rorate caeli
Hans Leo HASSLER (1562-1612) Dixit Maria; Verbum caro factum est
Juan Esquivel de BARAHONA (1563-1614) Duo seraphim; Ego sum panis vivus
Cristobal de MORALES (1500-1553) Ecce sic benedicetur
Tomas Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611) O Domine Jesu Christe; O vos omnes
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Rorate caeli
William BYRD (1543-1623) O magnum mysterium; Terra tremui
Thomas MORLEYLaboravi in gemitu
Peter PHILIPS (1561-1628) Tibi Laus
Gloriae Dei Cantores/Elizabeth C. Patterson
Recorded 1996, Worcester, Massachusetts.


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Amateur choirs have reason to be grateful to Chester Music's books of motets, each volume generally devoted to renaissance motets from a particular national school. Under the editorship of Anthony Petti, they make this lovely repertoire freely available to choirs, in editions which are suitable for a mixed choir. Whilst some of this music is apt to be tricky, none is of extreme difficulty and the motets can form a useful means of providing a varied selection of items in a concert.

This CD consists of 18 motets, grouped according to national school along with Lassus's lovely mass 'Missa super Bella Amfitrit altera'. The national schools featured are the Italian, Flemish, German, Spanish and English. This division is a convenient one in publishing terms. But, with the increasing internationalisation of sacred music at this period, I am not sure the division is very helpful. After all, Lassus spent much of his mature working life in Munich. Peter Philips was mainly based in the Low Countries, as a result of his religious convictions and de Wert spent his entire working life in Italy.

Whilst motets from these books are useful in programming terms, I am not sure that a complete recital of them makes particularly imaginative programming. All are aimed at about the same level of difficulty. What I missed in this programme was the sense of something new, perhaps something a little daring to pull the programme together. As it is, the recital rather lacks focus and proceeds in quite a leisurely way from motet to motet.

Gloriae Dei Cantores are a voluntary choir, based at the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, Massachusetts where they sing services regularly. At full strength the group number 36, though split into smaller groups for some of the works on this record. They are recorded in quite a generous acoustic and make a satisfying, blended sound. When the whole choir is singing, they make a fine noise but I felt that I was missing details that I would have heard in a performance by a smaller group. Also, the choir's technique and the recorded ambience would seem more suitable to late 19th and 20th century music than this repertoire. They have, in fact, made a fine recording of Rubbra motets. Too often I found a real sense of line lacking; a fatal tendency to think vertically, to produce a nice blended chord, rather than producing a focused line with ongoing horizontal momentum.

As regards the actual performances, Elizabeth Patterson favours rather steady speeds, contributing to the lack of variety. Too often I felt that joyful passages lacked impetus and liveliness. Viadana's 'Exsultate justi', which opens the programme, could have been far more vital. Here, as elsewhere, the more rhythmic passages lack a certain crispness. The choir is at its best in the slower, sustained numbers. The opening of Peter Philips’ 'Tibi laus', set just for high voices, is a lovely example of the choir's sustained singing. But as the piece develops, their performance rather stalls as they fail to inject the rhythms with the necessary vibrancy.

In the Lassus mass, the finest moments are those climactic ones where the choir's size and weight are suitable for the music and we can revel in the sheer joy of the noise without worrying too much about loss of detail. The moments sung by smaller groups meant that slight weaknesses in individual singers were exposed.

This is the problem with recording with a non-professional group with singers from a mix of backgrounds. This recording is very fine and entirely creditable, but there are still moments of weakness. By and large the recording engineers have done a good job, but some entries display hesitancy and there is an occasional smudged quality to the passage work.

There are 21 different composers on this disk and some are not very well represented in the catalogue, but this is not an ideal programme either in terms of programming or performance. If you are a choral singer who sings this repertoire regularly, you would probably find this recording interesting and enlightening. All the motets are given in good sober performances. But if you just have an interest in this repertoire, then I suggest you try exploring some of the Tallis Scholars compilation CDs or one of Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata's recordings for Naxos.

Robert Hugill

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