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” –
– and John Quinn was just as enthusiastic about CDGIM038 – see
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 fæcis, 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 fæx (plural fæces) 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
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
by Robert Hugill