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Claude LE JEUNE (1528/30-1600)
Missa ad placitum [29:07]
Benedicite Dominum omnes angeli [9:41]
Tristitia obsedit me [5:40]
Magnificat [9:21]
Ensemble Clément Janequin/Dominique Visse
rec. first released in 1996.
HARMONIA MUNDI MUSIQUE D'ABORD HMA1951607
[53:49]

The Missa ad placitum (‘however you wish’ or ‘as you like it’) seems to have been the only Mass composed by Claude Le Jeune – that he composed it at all, when he had converted to Protestantism early in his career, is something of a mystery, as is the title.  Perhaps it signified that his heart was not in the work or that it was in a variety of styles, partly in the syllabic style known as musique mesurée, which he employed for his French works and partly in an older, more florid style.  As you might expect from a reformed composer, much of the music conforms to the simpler style which Tallis and Byrd adopted in England at much the same time when writing for the Anglican Chapel Royal.

This is the only available recording and, while those who insist on historically accurate performance may frown on the instrumental accompaniment for sacred as opposed to secular music, it is well worth acquiring, especially at its new budget price.  In fact, the instrumental doubling of the vocal parts is not too prominent and the quality of the singing can support it.

Le Jeune wrote a good deal of secular music and Huguenot religious works in French, some of them admittedly somewhat tedious, such as his settings of the Octonaires du vanité du monde, but much also well worth hearing, as in the works by him included on an earlier Harmonia Mundi d’Abord recording from Ensemble Clément Janequin: Songs and Psalms of the Reformation (HMA1951672).  His Ten Psalms of David are available from Ramée (RAM1005 – review).  Three of the psalm settings appear with music by Le Jeune and some of his contemporaries on Glossa GCDC80012.

Dominique Visse and his Ensemble have also recorded some of Le Jeune’s secular music on a fine collection entitled Autant en emporte le vent (Harmonia Mundi d’Abord HMA1951863 – review).

In addition to the secular and reformed sacred settings, Le Jeune also composed Latin motets, two of which appear on this recording. Benedicite Dominum – O praise the Lord, ye angels of his – is a joyful polyphonic setting which would hardly have put Tallis or Byrd to shame, while Tristitia obsedit me – sorrow has laid siege to me – is very different in manner, though far from gloomy.  The two contrast well and the performances do them both justice.

Though the Magnificat, especially in Latin, would not have found a place in a Huguenot service, since that branch of reform was more radical than the Lutheran and Anglican, where Magnificat still found a place in Vespers or Evensong, it is less remarkable that Le Jeune should have set it than that he composed a Mass, since the words are taken directly from the New Testament.  It’s an elaborate setting, ranging from 4 to 7 parts, and it’s well performed here, though my ears pricked up when timentibus eum came out sounding more like timentibus eam.  No doubt that reflects the French pronunciation of Latin at the time.

I listened to this recording as a lossless download from eclassical.com.  Not all eclassical downloads of this budget-price series are competitively priced when the CDs cost around £6.50 but this being a fairly short album and eclassical charging by the second, their price of $9.69 is competitive for this album, especially in the US.

There’s no booklet, however, which may not be so important when Harmonia Mundi usually provide only the merest of details and no texts with their d’Abord reissues, but that’s irrelevant: if you are paying almost as much for the download, you at least deserve such booklet as comes with the physical product.  The texts of the ordinary of the Mass and Magnificat may be easy enough to come by, but not those of the two motets.

Benedicite Dominum is the text of the Introit for the Feast of St. Michael: Benedícite Dóminum, omnes Angeli ejus: poténtes virtúte, qui fácitis verbum ejus, ad audiéndam vocem sermónum ejus. Bénedic, ánima mea, Dómino: et ómnia, quæ intra me sunt, nómini sancto ejus. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancti sicut erat in principio et nunc, et semper, et saecula saeculorum. Amen.   O praise the Lord, ye angels of his, ye that excel in strength: ye that fulfil his commandment and hearken unto the voice of his words.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise his holy name.  Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.  (Psalm 012 (103)).

You can find the text and translation of Tristitia obsedit me in a BIS booklet available online here.

This is the only recording of the Mass and there is only one other of the Magnificat and Tristitia obsedit me in the current catalogue, on another all-Le Jeune album which I haven’t been able to access (Alpha 032).  Music, performance and recording all warrant my recommendation, especially at the new reduced price, though the lack of a booklet with the download warrants a serious reservation.

Brian Wilson