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Christmas with the Shepherds
Jean MOUTON (bef. 1459-1522)
Quaeramus cum pastoribus [5:41]
Cristóbal de MORALES (c. 1505-1553)
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Kyrie [5:28]; Gloria [6:30]
Puer natus est nobis [7:15]
Cristóbal de MORALES
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Credo [11:31]
Noe, noe, noe, psallite noe [4:41]
Cristóbal de MORALES
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Sanctus & Benedictus [5:52]
Pastores dicite, quidnam vidistis? [4:02]
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Agnus Dei [6:26]
Annibale STABILE (c. 1535-1595)
Quaeramus cum pastoribus [5:22]
The Marian Consort/Rory McCleery
rec. 13-15 January, Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34145 [62:55]

In terms of playing time the most significant composer represented here is Cristóbal de Morales but in fact the dominant influence is that of the Frenchman, Jean Mouton. It was Mouton’s motet Quaeramus cum pastoribus (‘Let us search with the shepherds’) that Morales used as the model for his parody Mass which the Marian Consort has recorded here.

Mouton spent almost all his life in his native France but copies of his compositions were disseminated widely outside France and a copy of the motet in question found its way to the Sistine Chapel where it remained in the repertoire of the choir for over a century. Hearing it in this fine performance by Rory McCleery and his colleagues its durability is unsurprising for it’s a lovely, intimate and seemingly effortless composition. Puer natus est nobis is another four-part piece but here the music often proceeds with two pairs of voices singing antiphonally, the four parts coming together for periodic cadences. This is a very fine piece. The third Mouton offering, Noe, noe, noe, psallite noe, is, like its companions, written in four parts. This piece is joyful and exuberant but while the singers never rein in the joy the singing is scrupulously controlled.

In his Mass based on Mouton’s Quaeramus cum pastoribus Morales adds a fifth voice – an extra bass part – to Mouton’s four-part scheme; this enables him to enrich the textures. Morales clearly thought highly of Mouton for we read in the notes that he used pieces by the Frenchman as models in no fewer than three of his seven surviving parody Masses. Nor was Morales alone in taking Mouton as an inspiration; the notes detail several other composers who, like Morales, used the motet Quaeramus cum pastoribus as the basis for either Masses or motets.

This Morales Mass is impressive. The Kyrie is serene and smoothly contoured while the Gloria often shows great subtlety in the writing. Here the members of the Marian Consort achieve fine clarity in the polyphony, singing flawlessly and phrasing in an exemplary fashion. The Sanctus is solemn and dignified while the triple-metre Hosannas are joyful. In the Benedictus Morales employs only the top three voices. Extra voices are added for the Agnus, the forces expanding from SATBB to SSATTBB; the extra sonority is most effective.

Even larger vocal forces are deployed for the concluding piece on the programme. This is another setting of the text Quaeramus cum pastoribus, this time by the Italian, Annibale Stabile. Here the writing is for two SATB choirs and Rory McCleery conducts this piece rather than directing it as a member of the consort. It’s a good piece, full of polyphonic Christmas joy; here it’s receiving its first recording.

This is a lovely disc. The music has been discerningly chosen and the performances are expertly delivered. The Chapel of Merton College, Oxford is becoming something of a regular haunt for Delphian, thanks to their connection with the college’s choir, I presume. Engineer Paul Baxter certainly seems to have the measure of the building’s warm and pleasing acoustic and he’s produced another excellent recording here. The presentation is up to the label’s usual high standards: the notes by Rory McCleery are interesting and as authoritative as we might expect given that he is currently researching an Oxford doctoral thesis on Jean Mouton.

This is a disc that can only enhance further the reputation of the Marian Consort. If you want a gentle, reflective and very satisfying musical celebration of Christmas then Christmas with the Shepherds is for you.

John Quinn