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Jacob REGNART (c.1540-1599)
Quod mitis sapiens nulli virtute secundus [4:29]
Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae [27:11]
Exsultent iusti [3:05]
Quare tristis es, anima mea? [3:50]
Stetit Jesus [5:58]
Inviolata [4:18]
Lamentabatur Jacob [5:02]
Stella, quam viderant Magi [2:42]
Ut vigilum densa silvam cingente corona [3:43]
Cinquecento - Renaissance Vokal
rec. Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria, 2-4 February 2007
HYPERION CDA67640 [60:40]

Regnart is the surname of a family of Flemish musicians who flourished towards the end of the 16th century, of which Jacob was one of five brothers. As a result of his long and almost continuous employment in the service of the Imperial Habsburg family, the life of Jacob Regnart has been relatively well documented. He was received at an early stage as an Alumnus of the Imperial Chapel at Vienna and Prague, and in 1564 he was designated as tenor singer in the chapel. In 1573 he is mentioned as musical preceptor to the boys of the choir, and before 1579 became the vice-Kapellmeister. In 1580 he was offered by the Elector of Saxony the post of Kapellmeister at Dresden vacant by the death of Antonio Scandelli, but declined. In 1582, however, he left the imperial service to enter that of the Archduke Ferdinand at Innsbruck, where he remained as Kapellmeister till 1595. He then returned to Prague, where he died.
In his excellent booklet notes for this CD, Stephen Rice places Regnart’s style as closest to that of his slightly elder compatriot Orlandus Lassus, and I would be the last to disagree. If anything, Regnart’s music has a fuller, more satisfying quality to my ear. As Rice also points out, Lassus’s approach was concerned more with the rhetorical projection of text, where Regnart appears to have been more deeply involved with the working out of contrapuntal ideas. Taking the most substantial piece on this recording, the Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae, Regnart uses ‘parody’ or ‘imitation’ technique, basing the material for the work on, or ‘super’ an existing work. The source has since been lost, but is speculated to have been by Regnart himself, possibly from an unpublished secular motet – a genre in which Regnart was as well known as for his ecclesiastical works. The vocal ensemble in this Mass is frequently divided into antiphonal groups of three or four voices, whose repetitions of certain sections emphasise important elements in the Mass. Some of the effects I find hard to describe in words, but the overall impact is as rich and welcome as good Irish coffee on a frosty afternoon after six hours on the back of a horse.
The other works on this disc offer more of same or similar in terms of quality; highlights including the remarkable Quare tristis es, anima mea? – ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? – which slides along in a restless Phrygian tonality, or Lamentabatur Jacob which, like Morales’s setting, expresses Jacob’s grief with some stunning chromaticism and surprising contrasts of texture.
Ensemble Cinquecento, if you haven’t heard them already, is a six-strong male team of singers from counter-tenors to bass. Such a setting might immediately make you think of an alternative Hilliard Ensemble, but their vocal colour is distinctly different. However much we know and love the Hilliards, there are always certain voices which stand out, or which place a clear aural fingerprint on the sound. With Cinquecento the voices are very well matched, each equally strong and with a similarity of colour which makes for a glorious, homogeneous effect. Once heard you will instantly recognise them again, but on the strength of their sound as a whole, not because of unique individuals. With a gorgeous acoustic and marvellously wide stereo spread, the ear is more often than not tricked into thinking that there are far more than six voices involved on this recording. The counterpoint rolls over the senses like cream liqueur – not quite Spem in Alium, but rarely far from it.
Readers may have noted some reference to drink with regard to this CD, and indeed, owning it is like knowing you have a full bottle of your favourite in reserve, for taking out and savouring when all the children are safely in bed, the television has floated away on the tide and the missus is out dancing until midnight. Friends may ask what that secret, sphinx-like smile is that you are wearing, and you can take them to one side and say, “listen to this…”
Dominy Clements


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