Philippe DE MONTE (1521-1603)
Usquequo Domine oblivisceris me? a 6 [5:25]
Philipp SCHOENDORFF (1565/70-in or after 1617)
Missa Usquequo Domine a 6 [17:19]
Magnificat 6. toni a 5 [6:32]
Te decet hymnus a 5 [2:25]
Philippe DE MONTE
Magnificat 4. toni a 4 [6:32]
Veni Sancte Spiritus a 5 [2:17]
Philippe DE MONTE
La dolce vista della donna mia a 6 [2:16]
Missa super La dolce vista a 6 [17:12]
Cinquecento - Renaissance Vokal (Terry Wey, Jakob Huppmann (alto), Tore Tom Denys, Thomas Künne (tenor), Tim Scott Whiteley (baritone), Ulfried Staber (bass))
rec. 21-23 April 2010, Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria. DDD
Texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67854 [60:02]

Musical life in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries was largely dominated by the Franco-Flemish school. Everyone can name some of the representatives of that school, like Josquin Desprez, Nicolas Gombert or Orlandus Lassus. Those were all singers and composers who took the most prestigious positions in cathedrals and at royal and aristocratic courts. They are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Many others, who had less prominent positions and worked as singers in chapels, have remained under the radar of modern performers. The members of Cinquecento have a special liking for such composers as their discography shows. They have devoted two discs to Jacob Regnart and Jacobus Vaet. The latter is also represented on a disc with music written for the court of the Habsburg emperor Maximilian II. It includes again pieces by Vaet and by another unknown master, Antonius Galli.

For the latest disc Cinquecento returns again to the Habsburg dynasty. This time it is the court of Rudolf II which is in the centre of attention. He was Maximilian II's son who sent him to Spain to the court of his uncle Philip II. After his return he was elected King of Hungary (1572) and then of Bohemia (1575). In 1576 Maximilian suddenly died, and Rudolf succeeded him. He moved his court to Prague, where Philippe de Monte, one of the most distinguished Franco-Flemish masters, was his Kapellmeister, and Philipp Schoendorff a member of the chapel. He was not, as his name could suggest, German, but from Liège in the southern Netherlands. Very little is known about his origins or his formative years, except that he was educated as a trumpeter. An important figure in his career was Jacob Chimarrhaeus, chaplain and later almoner of the imperial court. It is likely Chimarrhaeus introduced him to the chapel. His career was probably helped by the fact that he dedicated his Missa super La dolce vista to the emperor, and also paid a tribute to Philippe de Monte, as the mass was based upon one of his madrigals.

This work is one of the two masses which are known from Schoendorff's pen. Both are remarkably short, in these performances less than 18 minutes each. The reason could well be that his employer, Rudolf II, didn't like long religious services. Notable are especially the concise settings of the Gloria which take about three and a half minutes each. Schoendorff uses several means to keep his masses short. There is relatively little repetition; often the various phrases just follow each other without any words repeated. Both masses are for 6 voices, and this also serves the cause. By splitting the ensemble in various combinations of voices one group can start a phrase while the other singers are still closing the preceding phrase. This leads to a remarkable short-windedness, without giving the impression of anything being rushed. In the Missa super La dolce vista the syllabic character of Schoendorff's setting also contributes to its succinctness.

Apart from the two masses only three other compositions by Schoendorff are known: a setting of the Magnificat and the motets Te decet hymnus and Veni Sancte Spiritus. The Magnificat is an alternatim setting for five voices in which the odd verses are sung in plainchant. In the polyphonic passages we hear various specimens of ornamentation which Bénédicte Even-Lassmann in the liner-notes explains by referring to the composer's education as an instrumentalist. There are several passages in which text and music are closely connected. In the motets and the masses he also uses various musical means to depict the text.

As Philippe de Monte was Schoendorff's superior at the court in Prague it makes much sense to include several of his compositions on this disc. The motet Usquequo Domine and the madrigal La dolce vista are logical choices as they were used by Schoendorff as starting points for his masses. The motet is a setting of the complete Psalm 12 (13) which contains strong contrasts between sad and joyful passages, vividly expressed by De Monte. Bénédicte Even-Lassmann sees a connection between this Psalm and De Monte's personal circumstances: it is considered a work from the 1580s when De Monte was in bad health and poor spirits. The madrigal has much of the passion and the sweetness of many of De Monte's works. The Magnificat 4. toni is again an alternatim setting, in which many passages are homophonic and the tenor and bass are treated in falsobordone.

This disc presents the complete works of a hitherto largely unknown master. He is a composer music historians like to characterise as a 'minor master'. Considering his position and his small output this may be justified, but it shouldn't be interpreted in any derogatory way. There is enough that is remarkable in his oeuvre fully to justify the attention Cinquecento is giving him. Various reviewers on this site have sung the ensemble's praises, and I am joining the chorus with enthusiasm. This is singing of the highest order. All participants have very fine voices, and the balance between them is perfect. Again I noticed the relaxed singing of the upper voices which are without any strain even on the highest notes. The various lines are beautifully shaped and are easy to follow, also due to the superb recording. The elements of text expression come off well, and the contrasts in De Monte's motet Usquequo Domine are perfectly realised.

If there is anything to criticise it could be the habit of singing the "Et incarnatus est" from the Credo of the masses piano. I wonder whether there is any historical justification for this. One could probably also question the Italian pronunciation of Latin which may not have been practised in Prague in the 16th century.

If you are acquainted with previous releases with Cinquecento you probably will have purchased this disc already. If you haven't yet, don't hesitate. This is one hour of pure joy, and you can also be sure that you hear almost only music you have never heard before. I am already looking forward to Cinquecento's next recording project. May their enterprising spirit never dry out.

Johan van Veen

One hour of pure joy.