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Italian music in the Low Countries
Anonymous (early 18th-Century)
Lauda Jerusalem, Psalm 147 [20:00]
Confitebor tibi, Domine, Psalm 111 [18:00]
Motet In deliquio amoris [16:55]
Francesco Mancini (1672-1737)
Missa Septimus

Claire Lefilliātre (soprano); Marnix De Cat (counter-tenor); Han Warmelinck (tenor); Currende/Erik van Nevel
rec. Church of Sint-Jan Baptist and Sint-Jan Evangelist, Mechelen, Belgium, 20-22 February 2009. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
ET’CETERA KTC4031 [79:42]
Experience Classicsonline

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 premičre 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 Lefilliātre. 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 Missę 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 at the time of writing. 

The performances throughout are excellent. If I single out Claire Lefilliātre’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 August, 2009 and September, 2009, Download Roundups for the Hyperion and Gimell recordings).

Brian Wilson




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