Johannes REGIS (c.1425-1496)
Celsitonantis ave genetrix / Abrahae fir promissio [07:13]
Missa Ecce ancilla Domnini / Ne timeas Maria [39:47]
Ave Maria virgo serena à 5 [07:26]
Ave Maria à 3 [02:20]
Lux solemnis / Repleti sunt omnes [10:07]
Clangat plebs [07:17]
Missa L’homme armé / Dum sacrum mysterium [29:12]
Lauda Syon / Ego sum panis vivus [06:17]
Puisque ma damme / Je m’en voy [01:54]
S’il vous plaist [01:27]
Patrem vilayge [03:44]
O admirabile commercium / Verbum caro factum est [07:27]
The Clerks (Carys Lane, Helen Neeves (soprano), Lucy Ballard, Ruth Massey (alto), Tom Ruskin, Christopher Watson (tenor), Jonathan Arnold, Robert MacDonald (bass))/Edward Wickham (bass, director)
rec. 27-30 August 2008, Chapel of St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge
Texts and Translations included
MUSIQUE EN WALLONIE MEW 0848/9 [67:57 + 58:36]

Regis was undoubtedly amongst the most significant composers of church music in the fifteenth century and was held in high regard by his contemporaries. Until quite recently, however, his music has been relatively neglected, before a flurry of publications and conferences in recent years. A first complete recording of his surviving works would, under pretty well any circumstances, be something to welcome; when it is as well sung as this present CD is, with a scholarly approach which in no way inhibits the sheer beauty of the results, it deserves a particularly warm welcome.

Little or nothing is known of Regis - sometimes referred to as Jehan Leroy - before he is recorded in 1451 as Master of the Choristers at the collegiate church of St Vincent, Soignies, in the diocese of Cambrai. The church at Soignies was a place of some musical importance and during the years between 1450 and 1460 Regis’s colleagues included the composers Gilles de Binchois and Guillaume de Malbècque, both a generation older than Regis. Regis evidently came to the attention of Guillaume Dufay (b. c.1397), since he was invited to become master of the choirboys at Cambrai, but he seems to have preferred to stay at St Vincent, where in 1462 he was named scholasticus, a position he held until his death.

It is perhaps of Dufay and Binchois that the listener is most likely to think in listening to the music of Regis, sharing as he does their fondness for the use of chanson or chanson-like melodies in his religious works. Of Regis’s own chansons only two seem to survive, and both are so good that that is a cause for some sadness. ‘Puisque ma damme’ has a moving dignity; as only rarely happens in such music one is actually made to believe the implied speaker’s declaration:

Je m’en voy et mon cueur demeure:
Je chante et fay larmes de l’euil;
Je m’esbas et si n’ay que dueil;
Je ris, et mon euil pleaure.

(Though I leave, my heart remains;
Though I sing, tears fall from my eyes;
Though I seek distraction, I find only sadness;
Though I laugh, my eyes weep).

The more hopeful sentiments of ‘S’il vous plaist’ are articulated in a brief, but texturally transparent setting of beguiling beauty.

The greater body of Regis’s surviving work consists of music written for the church. Two substantial masses survive. The Missa L’homme armé was copied into the choirbook of Cambrai Cathedral between 1462 and 1465, which has claims to be the earliest recorded evidence of a ‘L’homme armé’ mass - though Dufay and Ockeghem probably preceded him in the use of this melody as the cantus firmus for a mass. This setting by Regis is particularly interesting for the way its use of ‘L’homme armé’ is combined with textual materials from the antiphon ‘Dum sacrum mysterium’, an antiphon concerned with St Michael, Protector of the Church Militant and leader of the heavenly armies against Lucifer, so that the original secular song’s announcement that “L'homme armé doibt on doubter” (the armed man should be feared) effects an implicit warning to the sinful. Musically the mass is striking for its use of canon and for the way that each of the five sections is introduced by a motto figure which has - as the Regis scholar Sean Gallagher observes in his booklet notes - “a surprisingly ‘modern’ sound in terms of its harmonies”. The other mass, the lengthy Missa ancilla Domini, is evidently related to Dufay’s Missa Ecce ancila Domini, both making use of the same unusual version of the antiphon, and both making use of more than one cantus firmus, still a relatively unusual procedure at this date. Another fine work, graceful and harmonically inventive as well as moving in its spirituality, Regis’s Missa ancilla Domini is also memorable for the way in which, in the Credo, the words “vivos et mortuos” are foregrounded in some extended sonorities startlingly at odds with the rapidly changing polyphonic textures all around them.

Regis’s motets seem to have attracted the greatest praise and attention from his contemporaries. In part this was because they were five-voice works at a time when music of more than four voices was still uncommon. The resulting possibilities for contrast and textual complexity give the music a distinctive quality, though for all Regis’s obvious interest in such matters he also displays a constant awareness of the significance of the texts he is setting. The Christmas motet ‘O amirabile commercium’, while vivacious and technically demanding of its performers, also perfectly communicates the wonder and excitement of its celebratory text, so that musical complexity never becomes merely self-indulgent. The five-voice Ave Maria is full of fascinating patterns of imitation between and across voices, while the brief three-voice Ave Maria could, musically, carry a text in praise of a secular beloved with no inappropriateness, bringing us back to the influence of the chanson in a musical reflection of that literary phenomenon of the time, in which texts to beloved lady or to the Virgin Mary can be well-nigh impossible to distinguish.

In short, this is a set which enables a reappraisal of an important, fascinating and rewarding figure. The singing of The Clerks is exemplary, in terms both of technical competence and alertness to the texts, as well as in the sheer beauty and clarity of texture they produce. The recording, made in the chapel of St. Catherine’s College Cambridge - of which Edward Wickham is Director of Music - is also a model of its kind. The presentation, in a sort of mini-book, attractively illustrated and with full texts and translations as well as a very useful essay by Sean Gallagher, leaves little to be desired either … and you get a lovely Annunciation by Roger van der Weyden on the front cover!

Glyn Pursglove