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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Jacobus VAET (c.1529-1567)
Missa Ego flos campi for six voices [30.43]
Antevenis virides [4.49]
Magnificat octavi toni for five voices [7.42]
Salve Regina for six voices [6.41]
Miserere mei, Deus [5.35]
Spiritus Domini [5.16]
Ecce apparebit Dominus [4.28]
Filiae Jerusalem [3.04]
Musica Dei Donum [3.16]
Jacob CLEMENS non PAPA (c.1510-1555)
Ego flos campi for seven voices
rec. Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria, 25-28 May 2008. DDD
HYPERION CDA67733 [75.21]
Experience Classicsonline

I will open this review by quoting my own words when reviewing Cinquecento’s disc of Philippe de Monte’s Missa Ultimi miei sospiri last year (Hyperion CDA67658). “The group offered some very fine singing in this rich and rare repertoire as you hear right from the first moment of the first track”. ‘The Times’ reviewer commented about their Regnart disc (Hyperion CDA67640) that “the sextet’s vocal technique is superb, in solo performances as well as in ensemble”. If you have come across their previous three discs you will know all of this for yourself. It still surprises me that they have only been singing together for just over four years. This CD in the main continues the same high standards in quality of performance and recording and in the rare beauty of the repertoire.
The decision by Hyperion to adorn each of Cinquecento’s discs with one of Archimbaldo’s extraordinary flora and fruit portraits gives them a certain odd distinction. The decision to record Vaet however is excellent. He was a prolific composer of almost entirely sacred music including nine mass settings and sixty-six motets. He died aged only 37 and was employed by the demanding Archduke Maximillian II of Austria, a very significant patron at that time (see JVV’s review of CDA67579).
The highlight of the disc and the longest work is the Mass ‘Ego flos campi’ but the other items are equally interesting. I was especially moved by the ‘Salve Regina’ one of eight by Vaet. It is an intense work, very imitative and complex but singularly beautiful and quite clearly indebted to plainchant.
But to the Mass which is based on a motet by Clemens non Papa who was a generation older than Vaet and whose motet comes, rather oddly I feel, at the end of the CD. It’s worth hearing it before tackling this quite lengthy mass setting. The motet is characterized by what we now call a strong feeling of the pastoral major key of F to illustrate the text which begins “I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valley’. Its opening of a simple rising scale overlapping with the entry of the next voice a fourth higher is also a feature used prodigiously by Vaet. It acts as a head motif for each section except for the Benedictus where it is inverted. Vaet probably knew Clemens who, despite his somewhat tawdry reputation, was highly considered by his contemporaries. The motet is, unusually, in seven parts and Cinquecento is augmented here by an extra tenor: Bernd Fröhlich. The Mass is in six parts and another of its peculiarly attractive qualities is the use of imitative phrases between the upper and lower voices giving the piece a madrigalian quality. It rarely moves out of its mode but when it does, often quite surprisingly, there is a leap to the flattened 7th in the upper voice.
Vaet also has a connection with Orlando Lassus. Not only must they have known each other but Vaet sets a text by the court poet Charles Utenhoven in praise of Duke Albrecht of Bavaria (‘Antevenis virides’) who was Lassus’s patron. It is, not surprisingly, a very grand work and might well benefit from having the ‘gravitas’ of a larger choir perform it.
The Magnificat is a demanding work. Some of its verses are, unusually, quite intricate duets which vividly convey the sense of the texts. These are sung, as was common at the time, ‘in alternatum’ with the plainchant.
The text of the ‘Miserere mei, Deus’ comes from Psalm 51 and begins “Have mercy on me, God/according to your great pity”. It had been set by many but it was Josquin’s version of some thirty or forty years earlier that had been published and become so very well known. Vaet uses the simple semi-tonal melodic rising and falling phrase which Josquin had almost overworked in his setting. It acts as only an occasional reminder of the plainchant. A case of humanistic society moving away from its dependence on the church perhaps. Another, contrasting approach in the use of plainsong is found in the rich and sonorous six-voice Pentecostal motet ‘Spiritus Domini’. There it can be heard in long notes as a cantus firmus in the bass.
That leaves just three more motets to mention. Each is linked by a fairly new concept, no doubt developing from the growing popularity of the madrigal, that of word-painting. ‘Ecce apparebit Dominus’ concerns the image of our Lord appearing in the high clouds. For this Vaet begins with a strongly rising phrase overlapping in fourths and fifths with other voices. If the booklet notes are correct then in the contrasting “grandiose exhortation of the second section”, (Jerusalem, rejoice at this great day) the singers fail to characterize the music strongly enough. Indeed dynamic contrast, at least not in the way we now think of it is not found on the whole in this music. It is therefore the way in which phrases are shaped with dynamic colourings that really matters. Cinquecento do this beautifully as in the brief ‘Filiae Jerusalem’. The notes tell us that the “first, busy imitative point represents the throng of Palm Sunday”. Again, this needs to have been brought out a little more clearly. I fail to completely understand this but the work appears to be a motet about the religious martyrdom of Maximilian himself. ‘Musica Dei donum’ is hardly a sacred text more a madrigalian, humanistic one. The words “Music, the gift of the supreme God,/draws men, draws gods” are set with the most mellifluous phrases and sweet harmonies.
Vaet is a fine composer but on reflection and having heard the music several times I am still not sure of his real worth. It may be that even more expression of the words is necessary but as I have said there is some very fine singing here. I do hope however that Cinquecento do not go down the same road as the Hilliard ensemble did at one point in their recording career, that is to concentrate too much on the sheer beauty of their sound at the expense of the text. It may be the acoustic of the Austrian church - I doubt it however because they have recorded there before - but the enunciation and the clarity of the text is far from clear. This is an area which needs constant attention even amongst the greatest.
Gary Higginson

see also review by Brian Wilson
(April 2009 Recording of the Month)


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