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Nicolas GOMBERT (c.1495-c.1560)
Media vita in morte sumus [6:09]
Kyrie (from Missa Media Vita*) [4:33]
Gloria* [7:34]
Salve Regina [8:44]
Anima mea liquefacta est [6:56]
Credo* [10:15]
O Crux, splendidior [6:32]
Sanctus* [8:37]
Quam pulchra es [4:52]
Agnus Dei* [5:23]
Musae lovis [6:19]
The Hilliard Ensemble: (David James (counter-tenor); Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor); Steven Harrold (tenor); Andreas Hirbreiter (tenor); Gordon Jones (baritone); Robert Macdonald (bass))
rec. May 2002, Propstei St. Gerold. DDD.
ECM 1884 [76:00]
I have to declare something of a predisposition towards this disc. I am a huge fan of the ECM label. As for the Hilliard Ensemble, they can do no wrong for me since their contribution to a concert in The Hague during the Royal Conservatoire’s Ligeti festival – a memory I shall carry with me to the grave. First up after the interval, they started singing, somehow without realising that their numbers were incomplete – a situation which was redressed to much hilarity, after which they manfully sang through the insensitive crashing of post pauze coffee cups being washed up downstairs in the crypt at the ‘Nieuwe Kerk.’
 
Back to the present! I first put this disc on after returning home late one evening, my artistic sensibilities having been damaged by out-of-tune electric guitars at a student presentation at the local ‘Cultural Centre’ at which I have recently found gainful employment. ‘Balm for the soul’ is a description which has previously been applied to the Hilliard’s Perotin CD (ECM 1385). I found the new Gombert to have a similar effect. His writing is quite intensely layered, with a lack of rests in the music making the counterpoint flow in waves of delicious sound.
 
I am grateful to the often wilfully ascetic or obscure ECM publishing style for providing Jonathan Wainwright’s useful booklet notes, which cover Gombert’s historical position between Josquin Desprez and Palestrina, the unfortunate effect of which having lead to his work being overshadowed by those great names. Gombert was by 1529 the maître des enfants of the chapel choir of Emperor Charles V in Spain, and his travels and influence with the court led to his work being printed by all of the major European publishers. In around 1540 this all stopped, when he was sentenced to the galleys for ‘gross indecency with a choirboy.’ After his release he completed his career as canon at the Cathedral of Tournai.
 
This CD presents the ‘Missa Media vita in morte sumus’ interspersed with motets to provide contrast. The ear soon becomes accustomed to the difference in approach between the mass settings and some of the more adventurous motets, and selecting just the tracks of the mass reveals the benefits of this kind of programming. I have a disadvantage in not having heard the Oxford Camerata’s recent release on Naxos, but I am sure these two releases complement each other well – besides, I know the Hilliard’s distinctive sound colour is not to everyone’s taste, despite my own predilection.
 
It almost goes without saying that the recording is set in a suitably resonant acoustic, and is beautifully balanced between articulate detail and spatial atmosphere. If you are in doubt, pester your shopkeeper to play you the first and final tracks. If the organically developing lines of the Media vita don’t get you going, then the transcendent atmosphere of the Musae lovis most surely will – right until the final tierce.
 
Dominy Clements         
 

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