This is one of a number of back-catalogue recordings which Hyperion
kindly provided at the same time as their new recording of Morales
Magnificat and Motets (CDA67694 – see review),
to allow me to offer a second opinion, as we often like to do
I recommended the Morales CD and I also find myself
in agreement with my colleague Mark Sealey, who thought this
Manchicourt recording a very welcome addition to the catalogue
– see review.
If anything, it’s more valuable than the Morales, since Manchicourt
is so comparatively – and undeservedly – unknown. This, together
with three pieces on a Coro recording by The Sixteen
(COR16037 Philip & Mary: A Marriage of England and Spain,
recommended in my October,
2008 Download Roundup) and the works on the Nordic Voices
CD to which I refer below appear to be the only currently available
recordings. The Mass isn’t billed as a premiere recording,
but I can’t remember any earlier version.
I know that I’m constantly singing the praises
of little-known renaissance composers, but I’m equally ready
to acknowledge those who are more run-of-the-mill, as I did
recently in the case of the music of Ashwell, Aston and Pygott
– see review
– even though their music is also well worth hearing.
The opening Regina cœli sets the tone for the
Manchicourt programme and for the performances of the Brabant
Ensemble – sublime music to lift the soul with singing to match.
Forget about such technicalities as that the work employs a
canon in the upper voices and just enjoy. Like several of the
other works here, it’s written for six voices (nothing in the
programme for less than four voices) but the singers keep the
lines at once beautifully distinct and yet fully interwoven,
here and throughout the CD.
Track 2 offers the work by Jean Richafort which
provided Manchicourt with the cantus firmus for the main
item on the CD, his Mass Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille,
Dost thou believe that God has neglected us? I’m surprised
that this piece was not placed immediately before the mass which
was based on it. It’s a modest piece – technically only a chanson
– but attractive enough when sung as well as here.
Peccantem me quotidie (track 3) is a penitential
piece, bewailing our daily sins; it’s a quiet piece, but hardly
a breast-beater and the singers are right to concentrate on
bringing out its great inherent beauty.
The Cuidez vous Mass (tracks 4-8) is, of
course, the chief work on this disc and it, too, receives a
performance which I could hardly imagine bettered. As with
Peccantem me quotidie, the tone of the Kyrie is
hardly endowed with the deepest penitence – the second Kyrie
is based on Richacourt’s setting of words about the Last Judgement,
though you wouldn’t know it – but this and all the movements
of this Mass were well worth performing.
It’s easy sometimes to forget what the words are
all about in music of this period; it would be another few decades
before both the reformers and the Council of Trent would lay
greater stress on the meaning of what was set. I’m not advocating
using the music as mere wallpaper, but you needn’t feel guilty
or worry that you’re missing too much if you just enjoy it.
If the Mass is the major work here, the Magnificat
runs it close and makes a fitting end to the programme. Indeed,
I’m not sure that I don’t consider it to be the finest work
on the CD, given that Manchicourt’s ability to match music to
words is no greater than can be expected for someone of his
vintage, a quality which matters less in the Magnificat,
where alternate verses are chanted and set polyphonically.
This is another work of great beauty and, like everything else,
is beautifully performed. If, as one original reviewer pointed
out, the trebles of the Ensemble rather dominate the vocal line,
then that is wholly appropriate here.
There is more to Manchicourt than we have here,
but this is an excellent cross-section of his religious music.
Perhaps the Brabant Ensemble or some equally talented group
will now offer us his chansons, said to be a mixture
of the elegiac and satirical?
The recording, made in the excellent acoustic of
Merton Chapel, Oxford, is first class and the
presentation fully up to Hyperion’s usual standards. Stephen
Rice’s notes contain all the technical details that I said could
safely be ignored by most listeners. For those who need them,
they’re well written; he may be an academic, but there’s no
pedantry about them and very little that the general reader
wouldn’t understand. Even the mesmerising cover close-up of
the Quentin Metsys painting of the Saviour of the world seems
I’m pleased to see a number of younger ensembles
challenging the hegemony of The Sixteen and the Tallis Scholars
in this repertoire – it doesn’t diminish the value of their
recordings in the least but it does guarantee that the excellence
which we have come to associate with them has a future. As
well as the Brabant Ensemble, I mentioned in an earlier review
a Chandos collection entitled Reges terræ: Music from the
time of Charles V (hybrid SACD CHSA5050) which seems to
have gone largely unnoticed when it was released a couple of
years ago. That recording contains four works by Manchicourt:
Reges terræ, Laudate Dominum, O Virgo virginum
and the Agnus Dei from his Reges terræ Mass –
no overlaps with the Hyperion CD – alongside works by Morales,
Clemens ‘non Papa’, Guerrero and Gombert. If I say that the
singing of Nordic Voices on that SACD is every bit the equal
of the Brabant Ensemble here and on their other CDs, that is
high praise indeed.
In fact, my only caveat about the Chandos is its
very short playing time of less than 49 minutes. No worries
on that score on any Brabant Ensemble recordings – an important
consideration for those of us born North of Watford, who like
good value for our ‘brass’.
see also Review
by Mark Sealey