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Orlande de LASSUS (1530/32-1594)
Laudent Deum: Sacred Music
Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge
His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts/Andrew Nethsinga
rec. Chapel of St. John's College, Cambridge, 20-22 July 2010.
Full tracklist at end of review

Experience Classicsonline

This disc is a real treat for fans of Renaissance polyphony. Lassus could probably be placed somewhere in the top five 16th century composers, but in a period dominated by the monolithic choral textures of Palestrina, the sheer variety of Lassus' works marks him out as something special. It is difficult to pin down the logic behind the programming on this disc, but if it is intended to demonstrate the breadth and uniformly high quality of his work, it is an unqualified success. We have works in four parts, in six parts, both secular and choral, and a good number of pieces performed on Renaissance brass, where they work just as well.

Of the 24 tracks, 14 claim to be première recordings, which given that Lassus is hardly a stranger to the CD catalogues suggests an unusually extensive output. And the quality never falters. Jeremy Summerly makes the point in his informative liner-notes that the performance of Lassus' music on instrumental consorts is not only fully justified by contemporary documents, but is also a demonstration of the rock-solid compositional technique that underpins this music, never needing the semantics of a text or a specific liturgical function to achieve its effect.

There is even harmonic innovation here. Listen, for example, to the opening of Timor et timor, where the 'Fearfulness and trembling' are represented by dark minorish modal harmonies, with startling harmonic shifts between each syllable. Palestrina might be a little more subtle with this sort of thing, but the sheer immediacy of Lassus' approach achieves something different and equally startling: a balance of the transcendental and the worldly.

This sense of immediacy is all the more powerful for the Choir of St John's College and their ability to perform this music with analytical precision, yet without ever weighing down its soaring lines. The clarity of their pronunciation helps to articulate the textures; there is never any sense that the consonants have been rounded off for the sake of the melodic contours. On the contrary, the clear and precisely differentiated consonants both structure the vocal lines and ensure that the texts - which are also surprisingly varied - are never subordinated to the musical texture.

The acoustic – of St. John's College Chapel – is warm but not unduly resonant. In fact, it has a very distinctive presence in the recording, and naturally this choir knows exactly how to make the most of it. The sound engineering also achieves the ideal balance of choir and aura, and indeed of individual singers and ensemble. This last is no mean feat, given the range of different choral forces employed, from three singers right up to the full choir of about 25, and with everything in between. The instrumental contribution, from His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts with some unusual woodwind additions – bass rackett for example – increase further the musical variety on offer. But when the instruments are used to support the choir, the arrangements always ensure that the choir dominates. That is as it should be but I'd love to have heard a bit more bass rackett.

In general though, this is an excellent selection of music and is presented with real musical imagination, yet never diverting from either the spirit or letter of the composer's scores. It would be hard to argue that Lassus has suffered undue neglect in modern times, so the chances are that if you've an interest in 16th century choral music you'll have heard him before. Even so, you won't have heard most of the works on this disc, which are all up there with his finest, and which are given here in performances that show off this fascinating and diverse composer in the best possible light.

Gavin Dixon

Full tracklist

Laudent Deum

Orlando de Lassus (1530/32-1594)

premiere recording
1 Ecce nunc benedicite Dominum 2:22
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
2 Veni in hortum meum 4:11

premiere recording
3 Qui sequitur me 1:26
Leo Tomita · Jonathan Langridge soloists

4 Resonet in laudibus 3:37
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
5 Sine textu 15 1:47
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts

6 Omnes de Saba venient 2:38
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
7 Qui moderatur sermones suos 2:03
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
8 Exaudi, Deus, orationem meam 2:12

9 Jubilate Deo, omnis terra 1:37
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
10 Sine textu 19 2:06
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts

11 Timor et tremor 5:15

12 Omnia tempus habent 4:02
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

13 Alleluia, laus et gloria 1:08

premiere recording
14 Magnificat tertii toni 4:58
Basil McDonald cantor

premiere recording
15 Quid gloriaris in malitia 4:55
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

16 Laudate pueri Dominum 3:48
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
17 O Maria, clausus hortus 2:07
Leo Tomita · Bradley Smith · Tristan Hambleton soloists

18 Laetentur caeli 3:26

19 Laudent Deum cithara 0:42
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
20 Sine textu 13 2:02
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts

premiere recording
21 O peccator, si filium Dei 3:29
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
22 Fratres, qui gloriatur 2:32
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ

premiere recording
23 Agimus tibi gratias 1:18
Julian Gregory · Francis Williams · Pablo Strong soloists

premiere recording
24 Magnificat 'O che vezzosa aurora' 7:07
Bradley Smith cantor
Leo Tomita · Pablo Strong · Tristan Hambleton soloists
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Timothy Ravalde organ


































































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