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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



CD REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH


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Available again

Claves Records

Philippus (Philippe) de MONTE (1521-1603)
Motets, Madrigals and Chansons
Hodie, dilectissimi, omnium sanctorum [5:58]
Beati qui habitant
[2:08]
Quare tristis es, anima mea
[2:46]
Hodie nobis caelorum Rex
[3:41]
Ogni mio ben crudel
(instrumental version) [2:15]
Son questi i chiari lumi
[4:19]
Lasso, ben so
[3:41]
Anima dolorosa
[2:05]
Ogni mio ben crudel
[2:05]
Beati qui habitant
(instrumental version) [3:14]
Que me servent mes vers
[3:26]
Bon jour mon cœur
[2:11]
Le grand amour
[1:37]
Comme la tourterelle
(instrumental version) [2:35]
Gaudent in caelis
[2:22]
Filiae Jerusalem
[3:18]
Benedictio et claritas
[3:26]

Ensemble Orlando Fribourg; In Echo/Laurent Gendre
rec. Pfarrkirche Plaffaien, Switzerland, 9-12 May 2007. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, French and German. Texts and translations included.
CLAVES 502712 [51:17]

 

Experience Classicsonline

De Monte is not exactly a household name, even among Renaissance specialists. The current Penguin Guide does not even have an entry for him, and the Gramophone Guide lists just one recording.  I have found only a passing reference to him in the index of the learned Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music, yet the bold claim on the Claves website that “His sacred music ... [is] of great import, ... comparable to Palestrina’s music” is supported by the recorded opinions of some of his contemporaries. 

Known variously as Philippe or Philippus de Monte or Filippo di Monte, and not to be confused with the composer Henri du Mont, he was born in Malines (Mechelen) in modern Belgium in 1521.  His real name may well have been Vandenberghe but it was the custom in the Renaissance to Italianise or Latinise one’s name for greater kudos.   His distinguished contemporary Roland de Lasse is better known as Orlando di Lasso or Orlandus de Lassus and the Elizabethan English composer Cooper transformed himself into the more impressive Coperario.  Even later, composers with the German name Schultheiss thought it advantageous to call themselves Prætorius.  It certainly worked for de Monte, who served Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary of England during her brief reign and later became Kapellmeister to Maximilian II and Rudolf II at the Viennese court. 

The Ensemble Orlando Fribourg may be as little known to you as they were to me before hearing this CD.  Founded in 1994 under the direction of Laurent Gendre, they are a flexible team of up to 24 singers (ten on this recording) who specialise in Renaissance and Baroque repertoire.  They are certainly thoroughly at home in the repertoire on this recording; I hope to hear more of them. 

The music on this CD falls into three sections, representing the three forms in which de Monte excelled: tracks 1-4, 10 and 15-17 consist of Latin church music, sandwiching Italian madrigals on tracks 5-9 and French chansons on tracks 11-14. 

Both the reformers and the counter-reformers at the Council of Trent laid great stress on the texts of liturgical and religious music – one note to a part being their ideal.  As a result, close attention to the text, rather than polyphonic virtuosity, is generally regarded as the hallmark of de Monte and his friend Lassus; the first four tracks amply illustrate that this attention to religious texts was not achieved at the expense of overall euphony.  Palestrina is usually credited with having ‘saved’ polyphony with his Missa Papæ Marcelli, by adapting his music to the new rules but de Monte offers perhaps a better example of a composer who was able to combine faithfulness to the words with attractive music. 

Hodie, dilectissimi, a text for All Saints Day, is every bit as exciting in its polyphony as the work of earlier composers, but the interweaving of the parts is never allowed to obscure the meaning.  The individual words may not come through, with all ten voices and the cornets and sackbuts in play, but their import is always clear. 

Beati qui habitant, a psalm setting, has much sparer textures, with no instrumental accompaniment.  With clear singing and equally clear recording here, the printed text in the booklet is almost superfluous. 

Quare tristis, for solo countertenor and accompaniment, opens with a lugubrious instrumental passage appropriate to the words which follow: “why art thou cast down, my soul?”  This is a meditative and dramatic piece; even at the words Spera in Deo quoniam adhuc confitebor illi “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him”, the mood is not much lightened. 

Hodie nobis cælorum Rex is a Christmas motet with soaring harmonies.  Particularly effective is the way in which the voices enter first at the words Gloria in excelsis Deo, “Glory be to God on high”, slightly ahead of the instrumental accompaniment. 

Just occasionally the accompaniment here is a little too prominent, as in Quare tristis, where the solo countertenor, Martin Oro, is not always the equal partner that he should be. This is a common problem, when the modern countertenor voice is necessarily less powerful than that of a castrato.  Otherwise, in all these works the Ensemble Orlando rise very well to the occasion.  Even in the larger settings individual voices are clearly recognisable, though never obtrusive within the overall mellifluous sonority. 

The same is equally true of the remaining works with Latin texts.  The second setting of Beati qui habitant (track 10) is a purely instrumental piece, the hinge at the centre of this well-planned programme, allowing the instrumental group In Echo to demonstrate their virtuosity. 

Gaudent in cælis is a motet for the feasts of martyrs, a grand and solemn piece which receives an appropriate performance. 

Filiæ Jerusalem is based on the words of Jesus in St Luke’s gospel: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me but weep for yourselves.”  A sparse-textured penitential work, without instrumental accompaniment, the singing here is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity. 

Benedictio et claritas, words from Revelation, bring the CD to an appropriate conclusion.  Handel’s setting of these words in Messiah (“Blessing and honour”) may be grander but, in its own way, de Monte’s setting is just as effective.  The voices weave around each other on the words in sæcula sæculorum, “for ever and ever”, as if they really will go on for ever – we don’t want them to end, yet the conclusion, when it comes, is no anticlimax but a wonderful resolution. 

Don’t expect the Italian madrigals here to have the intensity of Monteverdi, especially of his later books, but they have their own power to hold the listener.  As the notes point out, de Monte is a subtle rather than a spectacular composer.  In Ogni mio ben, cruel Death has stolen all that the singer cherished.  First heard in a very effective instrumental version which brings out all the melancholy (track 5) it is heard again in its vocal format (track 9) equally effectively. 

Son questi i chiari lumi, we expect the luminous eyes of the opening words to belong to the beloved, but the eyes are those of the king of universe, martyred for the sins of mankind.  This unaccompanied sonnet setting is a wonderfully powerful example of the madrigale spirituale (words by the Venetian mannerist poet Gabriele Fiamma, as far as I can ascertain; the booklet does not indicate the source, though it mentions other poets whose words de Monte set). 

Even in the secular motets, Lasso ben so and Anima dolorosa, there is good deal of quasi-religious sentiment, reminding us that late-medieval and Renaissance love poetry often has this marvellous ambiguity – is the beauty in question that of the earthly lady or that of the Virgin Mary? 

The four chansons to texts by Ronsard are much smaller beer.  They lend themselves to a lighter treatment, which they duly receive here. My favourite of these pieces, Comme la tourterelle, a piece which almost approaches the intensity of the Italian madrigals, is especially effectively performed.   Le grand amour (track 13), played here in an instrumental version, again allows the members of In Echo to shine.  Ronsard was, of course, the luminary of 16th-Century French poetry and his poems make good texts for musical settings; de Monte was far from the only composer to take that opportunity. My own preference is for the poetry of Ronsard’s friend Joachim du Bellay, but that’s as invidious as choosing between Brahms and Wagner or Lully and Rameau. 

With performances and recording as effective in the works with Italian and French texts as in the Latin pieces, this recording makes an ideal introduction to the varied aspects of de Monte’s music.  I’m still not sure about that claim that de Monte rivalled Palestrina, but he is certainly as well worth hearing as his better-known contemporary Lassus.  Please, Claves, may we have more?  Or maybe Naxos, with their track-record of rescuing deserving but forgotten music, will oblige. 

My MusicWeb colleague John Portwood, reviewing a Brilliant Classics 5-CD set of Renaissance Masterpieces (New College Choir, Oxford/Higginbottom, Brilliant Classics 99937) found the music of Caurroy the most interesting part of that box, but recommended the set as a whole.  CD5 of that set is devoted to de Monte, with only one overlap between that and the current Claves recording.  The whole box may be had for around the same price as the single Claves disc, so that may be the place to begin for those not yet committed to Renaissance polyphony, but the low price of the Brilliant box also makes it economical to buy both.  All the works on the Brilliant box are religious, whereas the Claves contains a mix of spiritual and secular. 

I am not even sure that the settings of Hodie, dilectissimi, omnium sanctorum on the two recordings are the same piece; the similar timings (5:58 against 6:07) suggest that it is, but the Brilliant box labels it a 8, whereas the notes in the Claves booklet state that it is for a double choir of seven voices.  A definitive catalogue of de Monte’s works would be valuable – a topic for a PhD, perhaps?  JPo exempted the New College singing in de Monte from his general reservation about over-reedy trebles; even so, I doubt if they make as mellifluous a sound as the Ensemble Orlando. 

With excellent singing, instrumental accompaniment and recording, the Claves CD deserves to sell well.  The informative booklet, part of the gatefold arrangement in which the CD is housed, is an additional bonus – and, for once, I didn’t have to look at the French or German versions of the notes to make sense of a fractured English translation.  I found just one typo – chiari is printed as chari in the libretto.  The artwork is tasteful.  For sheer enterprise alone, this deserves to be my Recording of the Month.

Brian Wilson




 


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