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Candlemas in Renaissance Rome
Jacques ARCADELT (ca1507-1568)
Pater noster [6:01]
Hodie beata virgo Mario [3:23]
Introitus: Susceptimus, Deus [3:16]
Kyrie from Missa ‘Ave, Regina caelorum’ [4:21]
Gloria from Missa ‘Ave, Regina caelorum’ [5:24]
Graduale: Susceptimus, Deus [1:09]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (ca1525-1594)
Senex puerum portabat [7:31]
Credo from Missa ‘Ave, Regina caelorum’ [9:18]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA
Diffusa est gratia [2:42]
Tractus: Nunc dimities [2:11]
Sanctus from Missa ‘Ave, Regina caelorum [5:24]
Communio: Responsorium accepit Simeon
Andreas de SILVA (ca1475/80-ca1530)
Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria [5:29]
Agnus Dei from Missa ‘Ave, Regina caelorum [5:24]
Andreas de SILVA
Ave, Regina caelorum
Musica Contexta/Simon Ravens
English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble
rec. 7-19 May 2010, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, london.

Experience Classicsonline

Chandos’ recordings of Palestrina’s Music for Maundy Thursday (CHAN 0617), Music for Good Friday (CHAN 0652) and Music for Holy Saturday (CHAN 0679), performed by Musica Contexta directed by Simon Ravens were all described as ‘excellent performances’ in Brian Wilson’s download roundup of April 2009. If you have happened upon any of these releases you will have some idea of what to expect in this programme.
This is described as taking us on ‘a journey of Renaissance Rome on a February day at the end of the sixteenth century [on] Candlemas, the Day of the Purification, [and] at each church along the way we stop and listen to a piece of music.’ There are no special effects involved in this trip, and with no change in the acoustic there isn’t really any idea of different churches – presumably occupied by different choirs. I for one am however prepared to suspend disbelief and become completely absorbed in what is quite a special programme, filled as it is with music which sees its recorded appearance for the first time.
Not a huge amount is known about Jacques Arcadelt, or at least, the booklet notes don’t go into his life in great detail. The central work which threads this programme together is his Missa ‘Ave, Regina caelorum’ which used Andreas de Silva’s motet Ave, Regina caelorum as its basis. The whole sense of historical flow, from de Silva though Arcadelt to Palestrina, who arrived in Rome in the year Arcadelt left to go back to France, is as strong as the sense of flow through an imaginary Candlemas day of music, and the music has a seamless feel of unity and connection, one piece to the other. The warm accompaniments of The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble enhance a few of the works, with de Silva’s remarkably spare and modern sounding Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria providing something of a highlight in this regard, a solo female voice rising from among the rounded brass sounds as the contrapuntal lines intertwine through slow moving, sometimes somewhat enigmatic sounding harmonies. The choral richness of the Missa is cleverly dosed throughout the disc, the Agnus Dei delivering a climax which makes the entire journey all the more worthwhile.
Musica Contexta is not a huge vocal ensemble, and while their 12 voices, three to each part, can create a full and convincing choral sonority, the overall impression is one more of rather intimate music making than the grand-scale productions associated with Venice and the later fashions of the high Baroque. The singing is restrained, but by no means shorn of vibrato or expressive warmth, though there is something of a consistency of sound which can make everything sound a bit samey. A little more contrast might have been more inviting, and I have to admit this does sound more like Hampstead Garden Suburb than raunchy renaissance Rome, but this is after all not the kind of music which of its nature promises high drama and extremes of exotic expression. With only two out of 15 tracks not première recordings this is the kind of CD which is self-recommending in its field, and with excellent performances and a fine recording it comes with a warm stamp of approval.
Dominy Clements