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Dominique PHINOT (c.1510-1561)
Missa Si bona suscepimus
[23.51]; Pater peccavi [7.50]; Tanto tempore [3.57]; Iam non dicam vos servus [4.23]; O Sacrum convivium [4.33]; Incipit oratio Jeremiae prophetae [11.30]; Magnificat octavi toni [5.24]; Confitebor tibi, Domine [6.56]
Claudin de SERMISY (1490-1562)
Si bona suscepimus

Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. 29-31 August 2008, Chapel of Harcourt Hill campus, Oxford Brookes University
HYPERION CDA67696 [74.13] 

Experience Classicsonline

So here we are again: so much to learn, so much to discover. In Phinot we have a composer, a very prolific one, of two masses, about one hundred motets (publ. 1547-8) as well as Vesper psalms and Magnificats. His music was performed and published well after his execution for committing homosexual acts probably at the height of his fame. He has never had a CD devoted to his music before and I have never come across anything of his, ever. Please let me know if there have been previous recordings. We know little about his life apart from the occasional reference. He appears to have been a cathedral singer at coastal Italian city of
Pesaro. If you go there today, as I did three years ago for the opera festival, you will find no reference to Phinot. On the other hand Rossini was born there and his name is celebrated far and wide in the city. All that we are left with is the music; what is it like? 

If you are to make an investment into a new or unknown composer you need to be able to trust the performers. With the Brabant Ensemble and the musicianship and prowess of Stephen Rice you know that you are in safe hands. 

It’s good that Phinot’s Mass takes centre-stage, even if it’s quite a short one by the standards of his time. It is a parody mass using Sermisy’s somewhat solemn and melancholy setting from the Book of Job “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away”. It is a moving work, but in the hands of Phinot it blossoms and develops into something of an ecstatic and joyous experience. There are several similarities between motet and mass. First, both are in four parts, second each has passages of paired imitation, upper voices for instance echoed by lower. Imitation was more a product of the earlier generation, men like Gombert and Josquin; we do not know who Phinot’s teachers were. Thirdly there are many homophonic passages to create contrast. ‘Sit nomen Domini benedictum’ in the motet (Blessed be the name of the Lord). This is set homophonically to wondrously still and simple chords. Finally there are shared melodic fragments as Rice and Roger Jacob point out in their interesting shared booklet notes. It seems to me that the mass might be an early work as the cadences have an early Renaissance feel and the final chord is often minus its third. 

The motets show similar stylistic traits, mixing homophonic passages to highlight certain aspects of the texts with strict imitation. Four of them are in eight parts utilizing the then burgeoning interest in double-choir settings; long before those lauded ones by Gabrieli. The booklet writers give us the rather obscure names of Ruffino d’Assisi and Francesco Santacroce. They were slightly older contemporaries of Phinot who were discovering double-choir imitative motets at the time. This writing contrasted high with low registers, as happens most movingly in ‘Tanto tempore’ a setting of a few lines from St. John. 

The Lamentations setting is unusual in that it does not set the opening Hebrew letters but runs as a continuous motet. It is also in eight parts. Here the second verse is set for the upper voices and the third verse for the lower. This means that the fourth verse is well contrasted for the two opposing choirs – a good textural contrast. The final ‘Jerusalem’ section is set homophonically. 

The other double-choir pieces are the joyous ‘Iam non dicam’ another setting of a passage from St. John and the serenely homophonic ‘O sacrum convivium’. For some reason they feel reminiscent of Victoria a composer yet to be born. 

There are three motets in four and five parts. The brief and cheerful ‘Magnificat’ is written as an ‘alternatum’ setting with plainsong. It is in four parts but the Gloria has a canonic five part texture. Similar in style is the simple and unremarkable vesper psalm setting (no 110)   ‘Confitebor tibi, Domine’ which ends the CD. I save the most remarkable piece until the end, that is the setting of ‘Pater peccavi’ which takes the words of the Prodigal son as he contemplates his penniless plight away from home. At the moment of his deepest depression, Phinot allows the music to drift down into dark ‘flat’ keys resulting in some extraordinarily expressive and dissonant harmonies. At ‘Surgam et ibo’ –‘I will arise and go to my father’, the tonality makes its way home via some marvellous sequences. All of this is explained in the booklet. 

The Brabant ensemble - normally sixteen singers - has been amazingly prolific for Hyperion in the last three years. This is their sixth disc. They have introduced us to some little known figures like Manchicourt (see review) and Crecquillon (see review) and more recently, although musically less satisfying they tackled the Chirk Castle part-books (see review). Also it is not at all surprising that their recent Morales disc (see review) has been nominated for the 2009 Gramophone early music awards. They have a gloriously fresh, yet intensely expressive sound, intonation is miraculous and they are aided on each occasion by a superb acoustic and recording. 

As well as the aforementioned essay the disc comes with full texts, well translated. The cover is adorned with a beautiful section of George de la Tour’s ‘Job mocked by his wife’ which fits neatly the text of the motet on which the mass is based.

Gary Higginson 




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