Cipriano de Rore is one of three major figures from the Low Countries
who made significant advances in musical form and expression in the
later sixteenth century. The others were Adrian Willaert (c.1490 -
1562) and Philippe Verdelot (c.1480/85 - ?1530/32). Their music is
not as well known as that by composers like Josquin and Palestrina
who came - roughly - before and after them although it certainly deserves
Although not immodest, de Rore's is music of great self-confidence,
conviction and beauty. The lines are varied yet express a concentration
that makes for compelling listening. The harmonies are clear but at
the same time embellish the composer's highly original ideas. The
adherence of the melodies to the spirit of the texts is remarkable.
It informs our listening with a fresh and binding integrity.
Stephen Rice was awarded his Doctorate on Gombert as recently as 2004
- from Oxford. Yet he has established a fine momentum in bringing
these composers to our attention with the aptly-named Brabant Ensemble.
Their singing is remarkably sensitive to the crystalline substance
of the music of this era. Yet it is the substance, and not the veneer,
that they address with every new release. There have been almost a
dozen so far.
The singers' tempi are gentle and finely-tuned though never
sluggish. There is also a real sense that the dozen or so singers
of the Ensemble, which was founded in 1998 and has recorded for Hyperion
since 2006, are not recreating the music; still less reluctantly infusing
it with new life. They are inhabiting it and performing something
vibrant and robust. The Brabant Ensemble is also a true ensemble:
the singers blend very well in all ways.
At the same time they respect the delicacy and focus of de Rore's
textures. Listen to the individually-articulated syllables of the
O altitudo divitiarum (tr.6), for instance. Rice elicits as
much warmth as he does precision from his singers and that's a gift.
He also focuses attention on de Rore's beautiful long lines, where
freshness and evident, almost deconstructed, grace are as important
as impression and agility. Both of the mass settings here are based
on French chansons. That too tethers them to a vernacular in
which de Rore was decidedly at home. This aspect is coupled to an
appeal to the divine that almost belies the readiness of the secular
madrigal, for which de Rore is best known. That's most evident in
the Kyrie, say, of the longest work on the CD, the Missa
'a note negre' (tr.9). Indeed, the composer made his most lasting
contribution in madrigal writing. It's necessary to appreciate this
in order to understand his at times (almost) homophonic techniques
in sacred music where polyphony otherwise prevailed.
Like the other composers from the North mentioned, de Rore worked
chiefly in Italy. In fact the music we hear on this superb CD is full
of the sun and the colour of that culture. It's not explosive or over-demonstrative:
the short Fratres 'Scitote' (tr.7), for example, could also
have been composed by a Taverner or a Tallis. Like most of the other
pieces here, it's contained and clean without ever being severe -
or sung brusquely by the Brabant Ensemble.
The Brabant’s accounts have enthusiasm and dedication as much
as they unobtrusively exhibit high technical competence. It's clear
in the way they attack Illuxit nunc sacra dies, motet (tr.8),
for instance, just how much they are enjoying this lovely music -
but not merely for its sound. Rather, for the purpose and confessional
import which has survived so perceptibly in de Rore's phrasing and
repetition over half a millennium.
The acoustic is as responsive as it is appropriately unspectacular.
The words can all be heard. Yet there is more than a dash of welcome
'occasion', but never spurious atmosphere. The result is performances
of sober devotion, which is surely entirely in keeping with the composer's
The booklet is to Hyperion's usual standards: some thumbnail photographs
of the performers as well as brief essays (by Rice) on de Rore and
his music and the complete texts in Latin and English.