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Wiener Sängerknaben -Vienna Boys Choir
Jacobus Gallus (1550-1591) Missa ad Imitationem Pater Noster, 8 vocum (c.1580) [25.46]; Puer Concinite (1577) [1.23]; Repleti Sunt (1577) [2.03]
Tomas Ludovico da Victoria (1548-1611) Una hora, [2.51]; O Regem Coeli [2.37]
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525?-1594) Hodie Christus Natus Est [2.10]
Giovanni Nascus (1510-1561) Incipit Lamentatio [4.48]
Jacobus de Kerle (1531?-1591) Sanctus, Hosanna and Benedictus from Missa Regina Coeli [5.03]
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) A Ceremony of Carols Op.28 (1942) [20.50]
The Vienna Chorus (on the Gallus Missa)
The Vienna Boys Choir/Hans Gillesberger and Anton Neyder (Ceremony)
Recorded Vienna 1972; no date or location given)


I must confess that the idea of listening to an hour of ‘wee boys’ in sailor suits singing does not really appeal to me. Do not get me wrong. I love the sound of a typical Anglican Church Choir. My idea of heaven is either King’s College Cambridge or the Westminster Cathedral Choir. But somehow the Vienna Boy’s Choir does not grab my attention. It is not that they are not superb: they are. It is just that, for me, boys’ voices on their own are like bagpipes – something to be listened to in very small doses. Yet this CD is essential for all lovers of 16th Century music for one key reason. As far as I am aware it is the only available recording of the complete Missa ad Imitationem Pater Noster by Jacobus Gallus. And not only that it has men’s voices in it too!

Jacobus Gallus was better known in his day as Handl. For the record he was born Jacob Petelin in Ribnica in Slovenia in 1550. He received his musical education at a Cistercian Monastery before working at a variety of monastic sinecures of the Austria Monarchy. Later he was a court chapel musician in Vienna. One of his last posts was that of Cantor at St Johann’s Prague, dying in that city in 1591. He is somewhat vaguely remembered for sixteen masses and a variety of motets for church use. His most ‘famous’ work is the Opus Musicum, 1577 which is a huge collection of motets covering the entire liturgical year. Curiously, his motet (not recorded here) for four voices, Ecce quomodo moritur Justus, was borrowed by another Handel! It tuned up in his Funeral Anthems (London 1737)!

The present Missa Ad Imitationem Pater Noster was composed for eight voices and sets the usual six parts from the Ordinary. Certainly, as a mass setting it is up there with much that was being composed at this time. There is much about this work that seems transitional. It is much more ‘complex’ than the music of Palestrina and Victoria: there is a kind belated nod to Josquin Desprez and the other masters from Flanders. Yet we are also aware of a looking forward to Monteverdi. It is technically a ‘parody’ mass, borrowing on the liturgical setting of the Lord’s Prayer to provide the material for the entire work.

The two motets, Puer Concinte and Repleti Sunt are taken for the Opus Musicam and are for four and eight a capella voices respectively. These works which sound as if they ought to be rather good are somewhat spoilt by the recording. They are a bit screechy! I would love to hear them sung by the Tallis Scholars or the Oxford Camerata.

The motet by Palestrina is Hodie Christus Natus Est. Although it is quite obviously well sung it would not be my first choice. The Schola Cantorum or Westminster Cathedral recording would be my preference. Somehow the lack of men’s voices just seems to make it less stunning, dramatic and immediate than it should be.

With the two motets by Victoria we have the same situation as the Gallus. A brief look at the Arkiv CD catalogue on the internet shows that neither of these two works is available in any other recording. So we should be grateful to ‘Arts Archives’ for making these available to us. Both Una Ora and O Regem Coeli are perfect examples of this great Spanish composer’s art.

The short work for four voices by Giovanni Nascus is in the same tradition as Palestrina. In fact I doubt that anyone would deny it was by the master on an ‘innocent ear’ hearing. This is certainly one of the best things on this CD. I find the ‘Lamentation’ style of choral music from the period very moving and this choir is well able to express the tragedy of the words. Little is known about the composer except that he died in 1561 aged fifty one.

The last of the liturgical pieces is the Sanctus, Hosanna and Benedictus from Jacobus de Kerle’s Missa Regina Coeli. This extract is extremely beautiful. I would certainly love to hear the rest of the work. Yet I cannot find reference to any full recording on the ‘net’ so that will have to wait. De Kerle was a Dutch composer who worked mainly in Bavaria. He was able to combine the Dutch style of Josquin’s successors with the clarity of Palestrina. He died in Prague in 1591.

The last work on this CD is Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. And of course the Vienna Boys' Choir are on firm ground here. The work was actually written for treble voices and harp. So I cannot complain about the lack of ‘deeper resonances- although I understand it was originally conceived for women’s voices. The Ceremony was actually written at sea aboard the ‘MS Axel Johnson’ when Britten was returning to Liverpool from New York in 1942.  It is not really a Christmas Piece, although it opens and closes with the Antiphon from Vespers for the ‘Feast of the Nativity.’ As with many performances the Deo Gratias is perhaps the most impressive number. However I must make special mention of Elisabeth Bayer’s contribution on the obbligato harp part.

The Vienna’s Boys Choir has a stunning history. Many ‘big’ names were associated with this group as either choristers or composers. We can name Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Bruckner for starters.

Quality of sound seems to be lacking in this recording. Even though the CD packaging states that 24 bit re-mastering has taken place, it does not seem to have done much for the 32 year old original masters.

One last niggle - I do wish that they had included the words in the CD insert.

So on the whole this is an interesting CD. The more popular works are available in later, and in my opinion preferable, recordings. However, the beauty of this CD is the four or five works that are ‘hard to find.’ For this reason I recommend this disc to all those interested in 16th century church music. Those who love the Vienna Boys Choir for their own sake will want to add this to their collection as a matter of course.

John France

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