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Thomas CRECQUILLON (c.1505-1557)
Mort m’a privé

Oeil esgaré [2:43]
Missa Mort m’a privé [32:53]
Mort m’a privé a 5 [2:11]
Caesaris auspiciis [4:36]
Mort m’a privé a 4 [2:36]
Cur Fernande pater [5:08]
Le monde est tel [1:58]
Praemia pro validis [7:37]
Congratulamini mihi [6:18]
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. Chapel, Merton College, Oxford, 3-5 September 2004. DDD
HYPERION CDA 67596 [66:11]

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On 10 March 1526 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Aragon, Castile, Naples and Sicily and ruler of the Burgundian territories in the Low Countries and Franch-Comté, married Isabella of Portugal, daughter of Manuel I, King of Portugal. The marriage took place in Seville; the groom was aged 26, the bride 22. Though the marriage was doubtless motivated primarily by dynastic-political ambitions, there appears to have been some very genuine affection between the two. Certainly, when Isabella died in Toledo on 1 May 1539, from a fever after giving birth, Charles’ mourning gives the impression of something much more than mere decorum. For a while Charles retreated to a monastery. Titian was later commissioned to paint posthumous portraits of Isabella, a number of which were among the small number of paintings Charles retained when he made his final withdrawal to the monastery of Yuste in 1556; one of the best of these portraits is now in the Prado in Madrid. Some of Titian’s finest late paintings were, interestingly, painted for Philip II of Spain (b.1527), son of Charles and Isabella. It was to Thomas Crecquillon that the bereaved Charles turned for music which might articulate his grief at the loss of Isabella.

This fascinating new disc from Hyperion contains two chansons setting the same text, once for five voices and once for four. The text sounds as if it might even have been written by Charles; certainly it speaks for him with an appearance of intimacy which seems to go well beyond the merely conventional:

Mort m’a privé par sa cruelle envye
D’ung medecin cognoissant ma nature;
Et m’a remis en si grand frenesye
Qu’en peu de temps j’ay bien change pasture.
Riens me m’y vault ma grand progeniture:
Vertu me couvre armée de patience;
Divin voloir passé humaine science.

("Death has deprived me by its cruel wish / Of a doctor knowing my nature, / and has placed me in such great frenzy / that in a short time I have quite changed pasture. / My great ancestry is worth nothing there; / Virtue covers me, armed with patience; / Divine will is beyond human knowledge").

The most powerful man in Europe effectively acknowledges the limitations both of his "grand progeniture" and of "humane science". Crecquillon’s settings communicate the pain of this text, its effortful faith, very poignantly. As detailed in Martin Ham’s excellent notes, the Mass setting is largely based on the five-part chanson, but also contains musical echoes of and links with other works by Crecquillon in ways which set up subtle intertextual connections. This is courtly art of a high order, sophisticated both verbally and musically, but expressive of emotions far profounder than those which were sometimes the subject of such courtly sophistications. The Mass, the central work on this CD, is both beautiful and moving.

Hitherto my acquaintance with the music of Crecquillon has been through the presence of works by him on more miscellaneous collections – such as his "Andreas Christi famulus" on the Chapel du Roi’s Music for Charles V (Signum SIGCD019 review) and the Tallis Scholars CD of Morales’ Missa Si bona suscepimus (Gimell 033 review review); there are CDs devoted solely to the music of Crequillon – two volumes by the Choir of the Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts on Arsis and a collection of chansons sung by the Egidius Kvartet on Etcetra – but sadly I haven’t heard them. This is my first prolonged exposure to his music, and I am very favourably impressed. Inevitably, the design of the CD makes for a certain sobriety of mood, but it never becomes merely limiting or repetitive and the clouds are metaphorically scattered in the joyous affirmation of the resurrection in the final track ("Congratulamini mihi") of the CD.

Based in Oxford, the Brabant Ensemble was formed in 1998 to explore the scared music of the years between 1520 and 1560 associated with the territories (the Duchy of Brabant) which give the ensemble its name, music by such as Gombert, des Prés, Lassus – and Crecquillon. A mixed choir of 15 voices in the Mass setting and of 5 in the chansons, they make a lovely, well-integrated sound, expressive and warm but never lacking in clarity. The soprano voices are particularly fine, but there are no weak links. The recording captures the acoustic of Merton Chapel very well, and the whole is an unqualified delight.

Glyn Pursglove


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