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Roland de LASSUS (c.1531-1594)
Biographie Musicale Volume IV: La viellesse
Track listing after review
Odhecaton/Paolo da Col
rec. Chiesa di S. Pietro, Belluno, Italy, April 2014. DDD
Texts and translations included in hardback presentation
MUSIQUE EN WALLONIE MEW1474 [73:54] – reviewed as 24-bit download from eclassical.com (also available in mp3 and 16-bit, all with pdf booklet)

Biographie Musicale Volume V: Lassus l’Européen
Track listing after review
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier
rec. Église de Franc-Warêt, Belgium, February and May 2015. DDD
Texts and translations included in hardback presentation
MUSIQUE EN WALLONIE MEW1579 [60:40]

These are the fourth and the fifth and final volume in Musique en Wallonie’s (hereafter MEW) survey of the life and music of Lassus.  I have used MEW’s preferred version of his name, though he may be better known to you as Orlande, Orlandus or Orlando de Lasse or di Lasso. 

I reviewed two of the earlier volumes in the series:
Volume 1: MEW1158 Années de jeunesse – Ludus Modalis: Download News 2013/3
Volume 2: MEW1268 La gloire de la Musique de Bavarie (I) – Singer Pur: Download News 2013/12 and more detailed review

Both of these volumes are better suited to those who already know much of Lassus’ music than to those getting to know it for the first time.

Johan van Veen reviewed Volume 3: MEW1369 La gloire de la Musique de Bavarie (II) – performances by the Egidius Quartet and College/Peter de Groot.  His only complaint, relating to the very small type in the booklet, is relevant to Volume 5 too.  Eclassical.com offer the booklet for Volume 4 as a pdf document, as do Qobuz for Volume 5, so it’s possible to enlarge it and make it more legible.

The fourth volume (MEW1474) covers the last period of Lassus’ prodigious activity as choirmaster of Albert V Duke of Bavaria, with whom he had a difficult relationship, Albert’s death in 1579 and Lassus’ time in the service of his son William, ending with the composer’s death in 1594. An illustration in the booklet shows a list of ducal employees from that year, with Lassus’ name crossed out.  Old age and disease had barely interrupted a long list of masterpieces.

Each recording in the series has been entrusted to a different ensemble.  All have been well worth hearing but this volume, from Odhecaton, is the best so far.  That’s not surprising, since Johan van Veen made their Monteverdi album Missa In illo tempore a Recording of the Month (RIC322 – review).  Robert Hugill also enjoyed that recording, though he mentioned that one of the counter-tenors was rather prominent.  That’s true of their performances of Lassus, too, though it didn’t trouble me – that’s the line to stress, if any.

The programme opens with the 5-part madrigal which Lassus composed for the accession of William, followed by the major work on the album, theMissa ad imitationem moduli Dixit Joseph.  This apparently antedates Lassus’ final period of composition, being developed from Lassus’ own Dixit Joseph undecim fratribus eius (pub. 1564), but it’s included as an example of the Masses which he composed in greater numbers after the accession of William who heaped upon him commissions for liturgical works.

It’s not one of Lassus’ better-known settings, but its inclusion here is all the more valuable for that because there are several very fine performances of some of his other Masses from The Sixteen (Coro), the Oxford Schola Cantorum (Naxos), Westminster Cathedral Choir (Hyperion, archive service or download) and The Tallis Scholars (Gimell).  The Missa Dixit Joseph receives a very good performance – one which should establish it in the repertoire alongside the other recorded Masses – and my only reservation is that I would have preferred to have had the motet which inspired it performed first rather than afterwards.

Though most of the music here is sacred, there are a few secular pieces and these, too, receive fine performances, Odhecaton adapting their style easily to the jolly style of a piece such as Tutto lo dì mi dici (track 10) – ‘All day long you keep telling me to sing without giving me a chance to breathe.  I’d rather play.’  Perhaps the thoughts of an overworked composer, but all done in good spirit.

There is only one other work by Lassus’ elder son Rudolph in the current catalogue: Regina cœli on a Berlin Classics album entitled Ave Maria (0016412BC).  The short Urtheil mich Herr (Judge me, Lord) on MEW1474 is hardly enough to form a judgement but it makes me hope that someone will oblige us with more of his music.

The collection concludes with the motet Musica Dei donum optimi, an exception made to the principle of including music published in the composer’s lifetime. Published shortly after Lassus’ death, it’s a wonderful example of why his music is one of the glories of the renaissance.

When the MEW recording of the Missa Dixit Joseph was released it was briefly the only version in the catalogue but, as is often the way, another very fine recording soon followed, from Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal on Hyperion CDA68064, which Stephen Greenbank thought that lovers of polyphony should not hesitate to acquire – review.  I listened to that as a 24/88.2 flac download, with pdf booklet, from hyperion-records.co.uk, where it’s also available on CD and in mp3 and alac.  Though released after the MEW, it was actually recorded slightly earlier.

Cinquecento follow their previous recording of Lassus, just one track on their album entitled Music at the Court of Maximilian II (Hyperion CDA67579 – review), with a whole programme devoted to his music – not just the familiar, such as the concluding motet Timor et Tremor – available as a free download – but the less familiar motet and Mass Dixit Joseph.  This is their ninth recording for Hyperion, all well received: you can find them all on the website.

In some respects it’s unfortunate that both recordings have appeared in such short order because both are very good and, as they come with very different couplings, both are desirable.  Where Cinquecento confine themselves to Lassus’ Latin sacred music, Odhecaton also include some vernacular religious texts and some secular works. 

Odhecaton is a larger group than Cinquecento, with five each of countertenors and tenors, a baritone and three basses, plus a soprano in Vidimus stellam.  The participants for each track are listed in the booklet – fourteen for the Mass – but the overall effect is not overpowering.  By good management and, doubtless, with the help of the recording engineers, they don’t sound much bigger than Cinquecento, who field two each of countertenors and tenors, one baritone and one bass, with an extra tenor drafted in for the seven-part Agnus Dei

Not surprisingly, in view of my enjoyment of other recordings by both these ensembles, I liked both very much and find it hard to recommend one above the other.  Whichever you choose, the Missa Dixit Joseph, an undoubtedly authentic Lassus composition, is well worth hearing.  If it makes any difference in choosing, I preferred the 6-part motet on which the Mass is based sung first, as on Hyperion.

As before, Cinquecento made their recording in the peaceful and appropriate venue of the monastery at Pernegg in Austria.  It sounds excellent in 24-bit sound, which comes at a small premium – £13.50 against £8.99 for mp3 and 16-bit – but, as even the mp3 sounds well enough, you won’t lose much by economising unless you have absolutely top-end equipment and ears to match.  The eclassical download is priced in US dollars at prices comparable with the Hyperion at current exchange rates: $13.22 (mp3 and 16-bit) or $19.84 (24-bit).  By an odd coincidence, both 24-bit downloads are at 24/88.2 rather than the usual 24/96 but sound none the worse for that.

Eclassical don’t yet have Volume 5, which I reviewed in CD format.  Following the chronological excursus of its predecessors it seeks to emphasise Lassus’ pan-European credentials throughout his career. The many versions of his name, along with the various languages represented in the titles of the works on this volume justify the decision to name it Lassus the European.  He probably began as plain Roland (de) Lasse but composers needed at least an Italian or a Latin name to be taken seriously.  The composer whom we know as Prætorius was really called Schultheiss and the English musician Cooper preferred to be known as Coperario.  Lassus went one better with Italian and Latin versions.

Very helpfully the notes in the booklet take us through Lassus’ various publications, from the opening Creator omnium (Antwerp 1556) to the posthumous magnum opus which his sons assembled in 1604, from which the concluding Domine quid multiplicati sunt is taken.  A majority of the pieces included here are otherwise unavailable, an added incentive for recommending this final volume as the place to begin if you don’t yet have its predecessors.

With five different ensembles, you might expect the quality of the performances on the MEW recordings to be variable, but all five have been very good and Vox Luminis are no exception.  The music here is even more varied than on the earlier volumes but they cope with it all extremely well, which comes as no surprise in view of the quality of the other recordings which they have made for the Ricercar label.  Between the beautiful performance of the motet Creator omnium (track 1) and the wistful love-lyric Sur tous regretz (track 3) comes their forthright performance of the text from Proverbs, Quid prodest stulto: ‘What does it profit a fool to possess riches, since he cannot buy wisdom?’ (track 2).

All three recordings come with high-quality booklets.  The MEW releases come as hard-back books with the disc inside the front cover.  They offer commentary in multiple languages, hence the problematic small type which Johan van Veen mentioned in the case of Volume 3.

When you have absorbed the music of Lassus on these new recordings there’s plenty more out there.  The Mass recordings on Coro, Naxos, Hyperion and Gimell which I’ve mentioned are good places to start along with a recent reissue of Lassus’ settings of the Penitential Psalms, recorded by Philippe Herreweghe in 2006 and now at lower-mid-price on Harmonia Mundi HMY2921831/2: target price £11.75.  If you must make one choice, I recommend starting with Volume 5 but both recordings of the Missa Dixit Joseph, on MEW Volume 4 and Hyperion, are also very tempting.

Brian Wilson

Track listing MEW1474:
Al gran Guglielmo nostro (5vv) [1:31]
Missa super Dixit Joseph (6vv) [27:36]
Dixit Joseph (6vv) [5:11]
Vidimus stellam ejus (6vv) [2:21]
Tutto lo dì mi dici (4vv) [1:20]
Helas j’ay sans mercy (5vv) [1:58]
De l’eterne tue sante (5vv) [4:24]]
Tragico tecti (5vv) [4:08]
Cum essem parvulus (6vv) [3:46]
Canzon, la doglia (4vv) [1:47]
Arse la fiamma (4vv) [1:42]
O fugace dolcezza (5vv) [1:43]
Rudolph de LASSUS (c.1563-1625) Urtheil mich Herr (3vv) [1:20]
Roland de LASSUS Hilff lieber Herr (3vv) [1:16]
Wir haben Herr (3vv) [1:16]
Memento peccati tui (5vv) [3:31]
Von Got wil ich nit lassen (6vv) [5:04]
Musica Dei donum optimi (6vv) [3:35]

Track listing MEW1579:
Creator omnium Deus [3:17]
Quid prodest stulto [1:30]
Sur tous regretz [3:18]
A ce matin [1:33]
En m’oyant chanter [1:15]
O Lucia miau miau [2:02]
Oh d’amarissime onde [3:07]
Concupiscendo concupiscit [3:32]
Deus misereatur nostri [4:23]
Heu quantus dolor [2:50]
Ecce Maria genuit nobis [2:40]
Come la cera al foco [2:40]
Tritt auff den rigel [1:24]
Cum invocarem [5:23]
Maria voll Genad [5:32]
Quis valet eloquio [1:56]
Quand me souvient [1:49]
Ô doux parler [3:36]
Exaltabo te Domine [3:29]
Domine quid multiplicati sunt [5:22]

 




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