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Nicolas GOMBERT (c.1495–c.1560)
Tribulatio et angustia: four- and five-part motets
Tribulatio et angustia [8:58]
Hortus conclusus es [4:34]
Aspice Domine [10:40]
Virgo sancta Katherina [3:02]
Inviolata [1:44]
Inviolata, integra, et casta es, Maria [7:43]
Ne reminsicaris, Domine [5:57]
Pater noster [5:07]
Ave Maria [4:32]
Ergone vitae [7:11]
Ave Sanctissima Maria [6:37]
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. chapel of The Queen’s College, Oxford, 1-3 September 2006. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67614 [66:05]


Experience Classicsonline

The arrival from Hyperion of four CDs recorded by the Brabant Ensemble, sent with my review copy of the latest Gothic Voices reissue (CDH55295 – The Study of Love – see review) allows me to do some retrospective second-thinking on recordings which colleagues have already reviewed.

Gombert is not exactly a household name, even among specialists in renaissance music. In part Gombert has himself to blame: his dismissal from the Imperial service and exile to the galleys for the violation of a boy, probably one of his own choristers, is understandably one of the few facts generally known about him and raises the question: can a paedophile possibly produce great music? This one certainly can, even if much of the music here is of a penitential nature. 

The Brabant Ensemble didn’t begin Gombert’s modern rehabilitation, which was already under way with two CDs recorded by The Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips in 2001. Those Gimell CDs contain all eight of Gombert’s late-period settings of the Magnificat, four per CD, each with an appropriate antiphon sung before and after (CDGIM037 and CDGIM038). Readers of a nervous disposition, frightened off by the lurid demon on the Hyperion cover, may well find those Gimell recordings more to their liking – they are excellently sung and recorded.

I have recently downloaded these recordings, in CD quality sound, in wma format, and intend to review them in more detail in my November 2008 Download Roundup. John Phillips thought CDGIM037 “a wonderful issue and well worth buying” – see review – and John Quinn was just as enthusiastic about CDGIM038 – see review. I concur with both. 

The Magnificats contain a number of striking discords, as do the works contained on this Hyperion recording. The first part of the opening work, Tribulatio et angustia, is modelled on an earlier setting of this text, possibly by Pierre Verdelot. Even in this first part Gombert goes beyond his model in expressing the tribulation and anguish of the psalmist but in the second part, where the text pleads for deliverance de lacu inferni et de luto fcis, a plea echoed in the Requiem Mass, the voices at the top of their range are, as Stephen Rice’s excellent notes suggest, dragged down into the awful mire – the Latin text is tactfully rendered ‘fetid mud’ in the booklet but fx (plural fces) can mean shit as well as sediment. 

Not everything here is penitential – the second piece is a beautiful setting of Hortus conclusus es, the enclosed garden being a familiar image in courtly love poetry made applicable to the Virgin Mary by the addition of the words Dei genitrix, Mother of God. If the Brabant Ensemble capture the awful descent to hell in the first piece, they equally present the soaring beauty of this second. 

The third piece returns us to the penitential mood, a setting of part of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, traditionally associated with Holy Week but here employed as settings of two antiphons for the Magnificat in November. Though not strictly comparable with the Tallis Scholars’ Magnificat recordings mentioned above – the antiphons employed there are all in plainsong – the singing of the Brabant Ensemble is at least the equal of those excellent Gimell performances. I deliberately set myself an impossible task when I mentioned those Gimell CDs, since an attempt at comparison becomes inevitable. I could duck the issue by recommending purchase of both this Hyperion and one or both of the Gimell CDs – in fact, that would be good advice anyway – but I’m going to climb off the fence for once and give this Brabant Consort recording a very slight edge over the older CDs, largely because of the greater variety of the repertoire. 

That third track is the longest on the disc and the quality of the singing there sets the tone for the rest of the programme. I’m not going to bore you with a long review: everything here is just right in terms of performance and recording. A brief review from me always betokens high approval, since silence implies consent. If you weren’t already persuaded by RH’s review into buying this CD, let me add my weight to his recommendation. If this were a new recording, I’d make it my Recording of the Month. 

While you’re about it, don’t forget the recent Brabant Ensemble recording of Morales Magnificat primi toni and other pieces (CDA67694 - see review). If you’ve got anything left over, don’t forget the Gimell CDs. And don’t forget the Naxos CD of Gombert – I add my recommendation of this, too, to RH’s. He didn’t give the number, so let me add it – (8.557732) and refer you to his review of this CD. Then there’s an excellent budget-price recording of Gombert by Henry’s Eight on Hyperion Helios CDH55247, a Bargain of the Month – see review. Credit squeeze or no, all these recordings are very worthy of your attention. 

Brian Wilson

see also Review by Robert Hugill



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