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Nicholas GOMBERT (c. 1495-1560)
Tulerunt Dominum meum [5.44]; Magnificat I [11.38]; Credo [13.21]; Super flumina Babylonis [7.15]; Media vita [7.11]; Salve Regina [9.34]; Epitaphium [7.36]
The Oxford Camerata/ Jeremy Summerly
rec. 17-18 March 2004, Chapel of Hertford College.
NAXOS 8.557732 [62.19]

Not a lot is known about Nicholas Gombert apart from the fact that he was evidently charged with committing gross indecency with a choir boy and banished to the galleys. He was born near Lille in what was then Flanders but is now part of France. His brush with the law occurred whilst he was serving in the chapel of the Emperor Charles V. He had entered the chapel as a singer in around 1526 and in some sources is reported as becoming master of the boys. Being in the chapel gave him many opportunities for travel, to Spain and elsewhere, in the Imperial entourage. His period in the galleys was around 1540, but he composed a sequence of eight Magnificats which led to the Emperor granting him a pardon. No-one seems to explain how he managed to write them whilst serving in the galleys. He spent the last few years of his life in Tournai. 

The first of these Magnificats is included on this new disc. The Magnificat is a wonderfully robust and self confident piece, with polyphony alternating with plainchant. 

Gombert can often be seen simply as a link between the low and high Renaissance, between the music of Josquin and Palestrina. But on the basis of this disc his music is much more, with a vigour and richness all his own. Contemporaries suggested that Gombert had studied with Josquin, though we have no evidence for this. Gombertís music was consistently polyphonic in style and eschewed the more modern styles of his Italian contemporaries. 

There are sixteen singers in the group and they sing the music to the manner born, with a suppleness of phrasing which suits the music. The women make a fine warm and surprisingly big sound that retains an element of boyishness. These are most definitely choral performances rather than vocal consort ones. This may not be to everyoneís taste in music of this period, but with musicianship as good as this it is hard to complain. 

The disc opens with the motet Tulerun Dominum, a piece which was seemingly very popular in Gombertís day as it survives in four versions. The motet forms the basis for Gombertís astounding eight-part Credo, a wonderfully rich confection and the Oxford Camerata do more than justice to the virtuosity of the writing. Gombert keeps the texture of the Credo varied, constantly changing the number of voices singing. Interestingly there were moments when I thought I detected hints of the poly-choral techniques of Gabrieli.

The four-voiced motets, Super flumina Babylonis and Salve Regina are more introspective. In the Salve Regina Gombert manages to weave together seven plainchant melodies into a satisfying whole. The programme concludes with the Epitaphium to Gombertís mentor Josquin in which he mixes his own style with the simpler style of Josquin. 

This is a fine programme, beautifully performed and I hope that it enables us to hear much more of the music of this underrated composer. 

Robert Hugill





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