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Da Vinci - Music From His Time
Josquin DESPREZ
(c.1440-1521)
1 Tu solus qui facis mirabilia (motet) [3:26]; 2 Intrada [1:17]
Serafino DALL’AQUILANO (1466-1500)
3 Quanus è misero l’uom [1:31]
Philippe VERDELOT (c1500-1552)
4 Italia mia (madrigal) [3:34]
ANONYMOUS
5 Pavana [2:43]
Costanzo FESTA (c.1490-1545)
6 Frottola: Quando ritrovo la mia pastorella [3:11]; 7 Madrigal: Madonna oymè [4:32]
Filippo DE LURANO (c.1475-1520)
8 Instrumental Frottola [2:25]
ANONYMOUS (or Josquin DESPREZ)
9 Frottola: El grillo* [1:39]; 10 Frottola: In te, Domine, speravi* [2:51]
Josquin DESPREZ
11 Ave Mariat (muter) [6:49]
ANONYMOUS (Gregorian Antiphon with Falsobordone Psalm)
12 Venite adoremus/Venire exultemus [3:57]
 Josquin DESPREZ
13 Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria (motet) [4:32]; 14 Doleo super te (motet) [2:36]; 15 Miserere mei, Deus (Psalm 50) (motet) [12:24]; 16 Gloria from Missa La sol fa re mi [4:18]
Alexander AGRICOLA (1446-1506)
17 Sanctus from Missa Re fa mi re fa [3:46]; 18 Virgo sub ethereis (cantus super librum) [2:17]
Johannes OCKEGHEM (c.1410-1497)
19 36-Voice Canon: Deo Gratias [2:09]
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul van Nevel (2-8, 17-19); The Waverly Consort/Michael Jaffee (9-11); Capella Antiqua München/Konrad Rühland (1, 13-16); Niederaltaicher Scholaren/Konrad Rühland (12)
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 82813 2 [70:00]

 

Take a glance at the CD cover above. Don’t you feel sorry for the kid who sees this in a shop, makes an impulse buy thinking they are getting the music from the “Da Vinci Code” movie, gets home and finds they have bought a disc that mostly consists of sophisticated 15th century sacred, polyphonic art music; a minority taste even in classical music circles.

It is no doubt Sony’s intention to ride on the shoulders of the film in the interests of sales. The words “Da Vinci” are writ large in a lettering font that resembles that used in the movie publicity which in turn is taken from the cover of the sensational novel that is one of the best-sellers of all time.

The size of the lettering of the CD subtitle, “music from his time”, is more than ten times smaller than the letters above. I am willing to bet that the majority of people in the world who have heard of the “Da Vinci Code” know next to nothing about Leonardo the man, or even if he existed at all, let alone when “his time” was. I experimented by flashing the CD under the nose of anyone who came to the house and without exception all thought it would be music from the film.

Sorry to bang on about this but only yesterday I listened to a radio programme which was a serious debate about how far those involved in marketing classical music could go without their integrity being called into question. In the case of this CD I will leave you to judge. I will make a confession though. If I thought that one of those who buys the CD by mistake, plays it and finds they have accidentally discovered a new pleasure, then, the packaging might be considered forgivable. I cannot see it happening though.

What we have on this disc is a mixture of 15th century sacred and secular music from eight different composers. Sacred music dominates and of that most of it is by Josquin Desprez, a direct contemporary of Leonardo. In fact half of the disc’s music is by him. He was after all the greatest composer of the period. In fact some in the know would regard him as one of the greatest of all time, certainly one of the most influential.

The sacred music is interspersed with lighter items of secular song or instrumental pieces, most of them quite short. Two exceptions are Josquin motets including his substantial setting of Psalm 50 which lasts well over twelve minutes. The other composers represented are names fairly well-known to the period specialist, the greatest being Ockeghem whose canonic choral contribution betrays the more archaic style of a composer born at least a generation before the others.

As for the performances, Sony seems to have trawled the archives and come up with four different ensembles in recordings that are probably spread from between about thirty years ago up to a decade ago; the booklet gives no information on this. As a result there is some variety in both style and recording quality. The groups are all very competent, the Munich Capella Antiqua under Konrad Rühland taking the lion’s share of the Josquin and it makes a beautiful sound. This contrasts with the Waverly Consort which in Josquin’s Ave Maria Motet vocally sounds rather feeble although paradoxically they are very spirited in a witty frottola by a composer described as “Anonymous or Josquin Desprez”.

I thought this disc a very enjoyable, cleverly assembled anthology. It would make an excellent introduction to 15th century music for those music lovers who would like to branch out from mainstream baroque/classical/romantic. It is a shame that many such people may not be targeted thanks to the marketeers succumbing to the “Da Vinci Code” mania. Naxos produced such a compilation four years ago in its “Art and Music” series. It was called Leonardo da Vinci: Music of His Time. That disc includes music by three big names that are notably absent from the Sony disc: Dufay, Isaac and Obrecht (see review).

John Leeman

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