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Pierre de MANCHICOURT (c.1510-1564)
Regina caeli [4:04]
Peccantem me quotidie [7:08]
Missa ‘Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille’ [31:32]
Osculetur me [6:16]
Ne reminisacaris, Domine [5:24]
Magnificat Secundi toni [10:52]
Jean RICHAFORT (c.1480-after 1547)
Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille [2:07]
The Brabant Ensemble: (Helen Ashby (soprano); Kate Ashby (soprano); Alison Coldstream (soprano); Kate Semmens (soprano); Jan Aitkenhead (alto); Emma Ashby (alto); Tom King (alto); Gulliver Ralston (alto); Fiona Shand (alto); Adrian Lowe (tenor); Alastair Putt (tenor); David Stuart (bass); Tim Scott Whiteley (bass); Angus Wilson (bass))/Stephen Rice
rec. 2-4 September, 2005, chapel of Merton College, Oxford, England. DDD
HYPERION CDA67604 [67:16]

This is beautiful music, beautifully sung by a newish group whose star is set to rise high.
The aim of this CD is to demonstrate that Pierre de Manchicourt is a composer of more than passing interest. French by birth, his musical education was at Flanders cathedral; he soon (1539) became director of the choir at Tours cathedral and in 1545 chapel master at Tournai cathedral. Eleven years later he was made canon at Arras cathedral. Finally, in 1559, he took up the position of chapel master to Philip II in Madrid – essentially to establish a new body of singers.
Although the present selection of de Manchicourt’s melodious and sonorous choral music concentrates on his religious output, he is known also to have written a good four dozen chansons as well. In fact, his music was extensively printed across Europe in his lifetime. The Parisian printer, Pierre Attaingnant, in 1532 (when de Manchicourt was barely 22) printed the composer’s Mass Deus in adjutorium; just half a dozen years later his complete collection of 19 motets followed. Then equally widespread printings by other leading European publishers. Laudatory references by writers such as Rabelais abound and De Manchicourt’s dedications bespeak connections with prominent contemporaries, the florid writings of one of whom, Gilles de Sermisy, suggest just how widely de Manchicourt was admired:
But, my Pierrre, let them have a contest, even with Apollo as judge, and you will emerge victorious.
Your Music has something great in it, second to no charm, not even to the goblets of the gods.
If there can be anything more sweet than ambrosia.
These are faithful memorials of your pains.
And envious ages to come are not likely to have an equal.
Of the more substantial works on this disc the mass, Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille, which is based on a chanson by Richafort (also included), is perhaps the most satisfying. And the elevated sincerity of the Magnificat is matched by its gentleness. The Brabant Ensemble are at their best in these two extended pieces, combining studied momentum with care, to lead us up to, through and beyond each musico-liturgical turn whilst not losing track of the dignity and splendour of the settings. De Manchicourt’s other works make use of the standard techniques of the sixteenth century… canon, imitation (in Ne reminisacaris, Domine, for example) exquisite and highly complex polyphonic interplay and imaginative distribution of vocal parts in the interests of enriching or clarifying the texture of crucial moments such as the mass’ Credo. Peccantem me quotidie, on the other hand, is emphatically homophonic; that was somewhat unusual for the 1530s.
The Brabant Ensemble was founded in 1998 and has only a couple of other recordings than this one in the current catalogue… of music by Clemens Non Papa (on whom Stephen Rice, the group’s director, has published) on Signum (045) and Crecquillon on Hyperion (67596). Theirs is a distinctive sound – perhaps as much that of a group of ‘fully-charged’ soloists as of a unified choir. Either way, their first priority is the music: there’s something splendidly compelling about, say, the intensity with which they articulate the subdued eroticism of the ‘Song of Songs’ in Osculetur me and let the sheer heart-wrenching beauty of Ne reminisacaris, Domine work on one like the memory of a dream. Their singing is paced, always forward-moving yet reflective. The complexity of some of de Manchicourt’s writing holds no fears for the Ensemble; they’re very competent and able to build striking interpretative joys on very sound technique.
The acoustic of the chapel at Merton, Oxford, is ample, to say the least; it truly adds to the atmosphere and is a good choice for this music with its reverberation (never too long) and its slight ‘edge’ to keep the definition in the words foremost; they are as clear as can be in this recording – that is a great strength of the Brabant Ensemble. The accompanying booklet has a good introduction and carries the texts in Latin and English. De Manchicourt is an important figure less for his innovation than his total command of compositional inventiveness and architecture. The only other discs of his music to speak of can be found on the series by the Boston group, The Church of the Advent Choir, with Edith Ho (Volume 1 - Arsis 400, Volume 2 - Arsis 406); so this makes a very welcome addition indeed.
Mark Sealey


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