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Pierre de LA RUE (c.1460-1518)
Magnificat Tone IV [15:05]
Magnificat Tone I [12:11]
Salve regina V [8:20]
Magnificat Tone VII [10:45]
Magnificat Tone II [10:46]
ANONYMOUS (15th, 16th centuries)
Antiphon, 'Sancta Maria succurre miseris' [01:44]

Antiphon, 'Tribus miraculis' [01:32]
Antiphon, 'Dedit mihi Dominus pennas' [00:30]
Antiphon, 'Virgo gloriosa' [00:51]
Pierre de LA RUE
Salve regina II [10:05]

Magnificat Tone VI [13:05]
Magnificat Tone VIII [12:54]
Salve regina IV [8:08]
Magnificat Tone V [11:00]
Antiphon, 'O quam gloriosum est regnum' [00:54]
Antiphon, 'Dum medium silentium' [01:00]
Antiphon, 'Bene omnia fecit' [00:23]
VivaVoce ((Deirdre Brown (soprano); Mary Beth Campbell (soprano)*; Cynthia Gates (soprano); Charmian Harvey (soprano)*; Marie Magistry (soprano); Carole Therien (soprano); Dan Cabena (alto); Lori Henig (alto); Josée Lalonde (alto); Éric Tremblay (alto); Stephen Bélanger (tenor); Bernard Cayouette (tenor); Micah Lamb (tenor); Garth MacPhee (tenor); Martin Auclair (bass)*; Alfred Lagrenade (bass); Philippe Martel (bass); Normand Richard (bass); Yves Saint-Amant (bass) [* sing in Magnificat I, Magnificat VI only])/Peter Schubert

rec. August, 2005; June 2006, l’Église de la Visitation Montréal, Canada. DDD
NAXOS 8.557896-97 [61:53 + 58:00]

Pierre de La Rue (c.1460-1518) was of Josquin’s (c.1440-1521) generation. His compositional skills made use of old and new techniques: imitative textures and new ways to achieve a variety of effects and elicit a variety of emotions in five- and six-part writing for example. Yet for this innovation, remarkably little of his output is in the current catalogue: a Clerks’ Group Gaudeamus (307) CD with the third Salve Regina is closest; masses on Naxos 8.554656, and the rest anthologies. So this is a significant – and warmly welcomed - release.
The singing of Montréal-based VivaVoce is clean and characterful. Because the texture of La Rue is not so dense as that of Josquin, there is a greater emphasis on the individual singers than on unified ensemble sound. It’s more of collection of soloists. Which is not to imply any lack of polish or roughness. In fact, the singing – the voices are very closely miked – is real and personal with a note of purpose and urgency throughout. The bases, of which there are five - as many as the higher registers - are particularly earthy and compelling; the articulation clear and unfussy.
Although Peter Schubert - who studied under Boulanger - founded VivaVoce almost ten years ago, their discography is not a large one yet. The characterful and precise performances on this CD might change that.
La Rue seems likely to have been born some time between 1452 and 1465, depending on whether documentary evidence for Peter van Straaten can be taken as referring (also) to Pierre de La Rue. What we do know is that he worked for most of his life in the Habsburg-Burgundian chapel in the service of the Burgundian Dukes who lived and travelled throughout what is roughly modern Belgium.
It’s said that the tragic life of Marguerite of Austria - a member of the aristocratic family with whom La Rue seems to have had a special link - inspired her fondness for sad chansons, and that this informed some of La Rue’s work. It seems just as probable that his extensive travel with the court offered him a multiplicity of musical experiences and styles on which to draw for his own plangent way of writing. In either case, it was Pierre de La Rue who was the first composer anywhere to complete a series of polyphonic Magnificat settings. They are somewhat restrained and, although there is joy in them, it is a veiled, mild one.
The Magnificat is a biblical song from St. Luke’s Gospel sung by the Virgin Mary at her first awareness of the importance of the child to which she was shortly to give birth. It was first sung to a plain melody at the end of Vespers, preceded and succeeded by antiphons appropriate to the time of year. Since such a melody was chosen to accord with the antiphons’ mode(s), there are eight possible Magnificat ‘tone’s. We know La Rue set all eight throughout his life. He strove to make them all different in feel and atmosphere - but we no longer have the ‘Tone III’. They are for four voices (Tones II, IV, V, VII and VIII), five (Tone VI) and six (Tone I) and employ such techniques as mensuration canon, different registers to evoke singers’ different ages and parallel motion.
The Salve Regina is one of four Marian antiphons for the end of Compline (the final office of the day) and for special Marian services. A favourite of La Rue’s, he composed six such laudatory settings. We hear three on these two discs; they use contemporary chansons and quote melodies by Dufay and Binchois, which must have been an attempt to arrogate to the Habsburg-Burgundian court some of the prestige of those great and greatly-respected musicians. Because of the intimate relationship between these compositions and a composer like La Rue, Peter Schubert has included half a dozen or so short antiphons to reinforce the notion that even the such profound and elevated music as La Rue’s here had a context.
In the case of both the Magnificats and Salve Reginas alternating verses are sung in chant (odd-numbered verses) and polyphony (even) – except for the second Salve Regina: each work, of course, has the text in common. None of the works is longer than fifteen minutes; this is ample time for La Rue to establish, develop and amplify the themes as needed. It also means that the CDs can be – and have been – easily arranged to offer the maximum variety… the three types of music (antiphon, Magnificat and Salve Regina) alternate and make for a very stimulating listening experience given the concentration of formas.
As noted, La Rue’s music isn’t so rich as that of Josquin. It takes but a few minutes of listening to the music on this welcome pair of CDs, though, to appreciate why La Rue was held in such high esteem in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. His music is focused and bright yet profound without being overly complicated. These are qualities which Schubert and VivaVoce have done well to concentrate on communicating.
The recording is clean, if a little on the dry side; the liner notes ample; the texts (those, of course, of the Magnificat and Salve Regina are essentially repeated) are reproduced in Latin and English.
Mark Sealey


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