This recording, made in association with the Flemish Belgian radio
station Klara, forms part of a continuing scholarly project ‘Sound
of the Cathedral’. It is run in association with the Festival
of Flanders, the cathedral in question being that of St Rombout
at Mechelen, situated mid-way between Brussels and Antwerp. Mechelen was an especially
rich musical centre; a certain Lodewijk van Beethoven, the
Beethoven’s grandfather, was a chorister there. The earliest material
from the Episcopal library has been lost, but it still contains
the works bequeathed to it in 1739 by a local nobleman, Cornelius
Vanden Branden de Reeth, most of it music of Italian origin for
a soloist or vocal ensemble with instrumental accompaniment.
Despite the beauty of this collection, the notes
speculate that the music of MS18 may now be receiving its
first performance ever, since the manuscript is devoid of
the usual annotations made in performance. Whatever the case,
the music deserves to see the light of day again. These are
world première recordings. Those interested in obtaining the
scores will find them published by Romero Music.
The first two items are psalm settings, of Psalm
147 and Psalm 111 respectively, by anonymous composers. The
latter, Psalm 110 in the Vulgate, is one of the psalms specified
for Sunday and festal Vespers, therefore regularly sung in
the breviary cycle. I’m not sure why the notes refer to the
text as ‘the first twelve verses’ of the psalm; that’s all
that there is. Whoever composed this music was an accomplished
musician; both of these pieces and the following motet, effectively
a short dramatic cantata, were well worth disinterring. Even
the closing Gloria patri doxology of Psalm 111 (tr.2)
receives an elaborate and beautiful setting.
The adaptation of the language of courtly love
in a religious context in In deliquio amoris (tr.3)
may have been conventional by the time that this motet was
written, but the musical setting, for soprano and light instrumental
accompaniment is very attractive, especially when the solo
part is as beautifully sung as it is here by Claire Lefilliâtre.
I cannot imagine even Emma Kirkby singing it better.
The one work here whose composer can be identified
is the Missa septimus (trs.4-5), one of seven works
in the collection by the Neapolitan Francesco Mancini, a pupil
of Alessandro Scarlatti. A ‘short mass’ of the kind more familiar
in Lutheran usage – Bach’s Missæ breves, for example
– it contains settings of just the first two movements, the
Kyrie and Gloria, both set in lively manner,
with little sense of penitence in the pleas for mercy in the
Kyrie. The Gloria is a spacious movement which
makes me want to hear more of Mancini’s music; if it’s all
as good as this, he came close to equalling his mentor Scarlatti.
There are even similarities to Bach’s great b-minor Mass.
Erik van Nevel and Currende are no strangers to
the catalogue of late medieval, renaissance and baroque music,
with a collection of Music for Sir Anthony, recorded for
the quater-centenary of the birth of Sir Anthony van Dyke in 1999
(ETC4005) and a 10-CD set of Masters from Flanders, polyphony
from the 15th and 16th centuries (KTC1380,
available for around £25 in the UK). Those 10 CDs come from their
recordings for the Eufoda label, many of which also remain available,
as do several for the Accent and other labels – 45 recordings
on offer from Amazon.co.uk at the time of writing.
The performances throughout are excellent. If I
single out Claire Lefilliâtre’s excellent singing of the soprano
parts – beautiful and affective – that is mainly a reflection
of the prominence of her part in this music: Confitebor
tibi (tr.2) and In deliquio amoris (tr.3) are effectively
dialogues between soprano and the instruments. She is very
ably supported by Marnix de Cat’s counter-tenor, Han Warmelinck’s
tenor, and by the members of Currende; Erik van Nevel’s direction
is excellent throughout. I have seen some earlier Currende
recordings characterised as over-plush; if that is sometimes
true here, it is because the music thoroughly lends itself
to such treatment.
Erik van Nevel’s notes are informative and they
receive an idiomatic translation. Nowhere does he seek to
explain the oddly ungrammatical title Missa septimus
– why not septima, or is ‘Septimus’ intended as a proper
name? If the latter, who was the Septimus to whom the work
was (presumably) dedicated?
This CD is a delight from beginning to end. Its
quality made me hope to hear more music from the Mechelen
collection from these performers. With very good recording
– close but not over-close and with a very credible sound-stage,
criticism is superfluous.
I’ve been listening to some truly excellent Hyperion
recordings of pre-classical choral music recently – Byrd from
The Cardinall’s Musick (CDA67568 and CDA67653 – see review
– and CDA67675); Guerrero and Victoria from Westminster Cathedral
(CDH55340 and CDA67748 respectively); Phinot from the Brabant
Ensemble (CDA67696) – not to mention some of Gimell’s superb
earlier recordings which I’ve been re-examining in 24-bit
form in my Download Roundups, but they all yield to this Etcetera
recording for the accolade Recording of the Month. (See my
2009 and September,
2009, Download Roundups for the Hyperion and Gimell recordings).