Although this is the third disc that the all-male renaissance
vocal group Cinquecento have made for Hyperion I seemed to have
missed their previous recordings. This has quite certainly been
to my great loss. They offer very fine singing. You will notice
this right from the first moments of the opening motet: the moving
‘Miserere mei, Deus’ which forms part of Psalm 56. They have tackled
similar repertoire before, that is Music for Maximilian II,
(CDA67579) and sacred music by Jacob Regnart: Missa super oeniades
nymphae (CDA67640). These are fascinating and under-explored
corners of Renaissance music which is their especial interest.
de Monte may well have been one of the most prolific composers
of all time. No less than thirty-four books of madrigals were
issued in his life-time. You certainly wouldn’t realise how
prolific he had been by looking through the record catalogue.
It is however possible that you have met some of his madrigals
in anthology collections, both in print and on CD. It’s rather
hard to say exactly, at this stage, what makes his style his
own so it’s best if I run through the music with the help of
the excellent and detailed programme notes written by Stephen
point worth making from the outset is that De Monte is not encumbered
by vast swathes of imitative counterpoint the like of which
haunt the music of older contemporary Gombert or his exact contemporary
Lassus. Monte’s music is as expressive and as sensitive as any
although its subtleties can take a little more effort to discover.
It is this factor that might have been responsible for the music’s
seeming anonymity and neglect.
Mass takes up the main bulk of the CD. It is based on a somewhat
serious madrigal by another prolific master, the Frenchman Philippe
Verdelot. For some reason Hyperion do not here adopt the usual
practice of letting us hear the madrigal immediately before
the Mass. Instead it is placed, somewhat curiously in my view
at the end of the CD. My advice is that it should be heard first
and a few times as well; then the subtleties of Monte’s Mass
can be more fully appreciated. Each movement begins with a few
bars from the madrigal’s opening and then sections of the madrigal
appear from time to time within the Mass. Rice mentions ‘Domine
Deus’ in the Gloria which takes the madrigal text ‘Dul tuo fidel
(that your faithful one). Other sections are freely composed
and also use conventional word-painting, ‘ascendit’ and ‘miserere
nobis’, for instance.
motets can also have some subtle word-painting. For example
in the motet ‘Fratres, ego enim accepi’ at the word ‘fregit’
(broke) the use of rapid notes could “symbolise the action of
bread becoming crumbs” (Rice). The motet unusually, contrasts
a text about the last supper with, as its second section a text
from the Magnificat - Antiphon for Vespers on Corpus Christi.
Why? Because this late-invented medieval feast is a celebration
of the body of Christ which is still, in some European towns
is paraded through the streets in the shape of bread or communion
wafers, or a figure of the crucified Christ.
mentions musical symbolism quite often in his notes and I did
find myself at first wondering if he had taken things a little
too far. However on further acquaintance I decided that his
philosophical and sometime theological points made sense.
Magnificat is succinct. The verses are sung ‘in alternatum’
with the plainsong also acting as the (elaborated) melody line
in the polyphony. The motet ‘Ad te levavi’ is a good example
of Monte’s word-painting with a very unusual octave jump in
the top part between notes 2 and 3 for ‘levavi’ (Lift up). The
rest of the work mixes homophony with gentle and un- complicated
polyphony which would have appealed to the ‘Council of Trent’
and Pope Marcellus.
me’ with words from Psalm 50 is also a setting ‘in alternatum’
with the plainsong as mere fragments breaking the text up into
short sections. ‘Ne timeas, Maria’ shares in common with ‘Asperges
me’ a major-sounding mode with more complex polyphony. Here
the words are a paraphrase of St. Luke Chapter 1 ‘Fear not Mary,
thou hast found favour with GOD’.
only disappointment with this disc is it slightly measly length
at less than an hour. With a composer so little known, with
such fine singers and with such a wealth of music awaiting discovery
another couple of pieces, possibly even a madrigal or two to
complement Verdelot's would not have been out of place.
church acoustic is excellent, adding a little shine but not
taking away any clarity of diction or the wonderful blend of
the voices. All texts with very good translations are available
but the cover of the booklet has one of those odd fruit-and-tree-portraits
by that extraordinary artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593),
a man who seems a million miles away from Monte’s conservative
style. Still, there is also a photograph of the six men who
make up Cinquecento.