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Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (c.1510 – c.1555)
Behold How Joyful

Ecce quam bonum; Missa Ecce quam bonum; Acceserunt ad Jesum; Job tonso capite; Veni electa mea; Pascha nostrum; Carole, magnus eras
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
Recorded in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, 5-7 April 2003
SIGNUM SIGCD045 [70:54]


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The 16th century Flemish composer Clemens non Papa wrote a considerable body of music, but has left musicologists precious little biographical material. His whereabouts is certain for just a handful of 16th century dates. But he is one of the century’s most published musicians. Fifteen masses and over two hundred motets survive, though some of these are also attributed to his contemporary Thomas Crécquillon. Even his nick-name, non Papa (literally, ‘not the Pope’) has given rise to some speculation. The booklet in this disc refers to some remarkable new discoveries in this area by Henri Vanhulst, but frustratingly does not say what they are.

The Brabant Ensemble is a vocal ensemble of some fourteen voices which was formed in 1998 by the Oxford-based performer and musicologist, Stephen Rice. Rice has recently completed his doctorate on the motets of Nicholas Gombert and formed the Ensemble to perform sacred music from the 16th century, with emphasis on Flemish composers.

For this disc they have formed a programme around Clemens non Papa’s mass ‘Missa Ecce quam bonum’. The programme opens with the motet, ‘Ecce quam bonum’ (a setting from Psalm 133) on which the mass is based. ‘Ecce quam bonum’ is a 6-part motet and, as was common at the time in parody masses, ‘Missa Ecce quam bonum’ is initially in 5–parts, Clemens non Papa dropping one of the lowest parts. It was also common for such masses to have an addition voice added in the final Agnus Dei, however Clemens non Papa adds an extra voice from the Sanctus onwards. But instead of reverting to the vocal layout of the motet, Clemens non Papa adds a second tenor part which sings in canon with the first tenor. This creates some stunningly lovely effects.

Rather sensibly, instead of performing the mass in one solid lump, Rice intersperses it with 4 of Clemens non Papa’s motets to create a quasi liturgical programme. The disc finishes with a secular work, a state motet addressed to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his son Philip, probably dating from the latter’s investiture as Regent of the Low Countries.

The disc was recorded in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford and seems to bring with it a strong whiff of the collegiate sound-world – with all its good (and bad) points. The Brabant Ensemble has a lovely clear sound – rather bright and not a little Oxbridge in sound. 14 singers are credited on the recording, with a mix of male and female altos. They sing with multiple voices per part but with judicious use of solo voices. They display fine musicianship with a good feel for the music of the period. All their performances on the disc are of a high quality and the singers have a good feel for the shape and line of the music.

But I could have wished for better diction and I wished they had allowed the sound and sense of the text to colour the music more. They sing the music in good straight versions. I should not really ask for more, but I would dearly have liked more of a feeling of passion.

The catalogue is not overly endowed with recordings of Clemens non Papa’s music so this highly musical version of one of his masses is to be recommended.

Robert Hugill


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