Pierre de LA RUE (c.1452–1518) Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor 4vv [31:24] Salve Regina VI 4vv [5:19] Missa Inviolata 4vv [30:35] Magnificat sexti toni 5vv [11:34] The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice rec. Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Loughton, Essex, 6-8 August 2015. DDD Texts and translations included Reviewed as 24/96 download from
hyperion-records.co.uk with pdf booklet. HYPERION CDA68150 [78:52]
These are the only currently available recordings of the two Masses and, to the best of my knowledge, the first ever. The only other recording of the 5-part Magnificat comes on a collection of De La Rue’s settings of Salve Regina – though not No. VI, as included on the new Hyperion – and Magnificat. (Naxos 8.557896/97, 2 CDs). An instrumental version of the four-part Salve Regina VI is included on a Hyperion Helios recording referred to below.
This release joins a considerable number of very distinguished recordings which the Brabant Ensemble ha already made for Hyperion:
Search those reviews, several of them written by me, and you will discover them to be laden with so many superlatives that I’ve run out of anything to say about the performances, so I’ve simply given the new release Recording of the Month status, which says it all. As for the music of Pierre de
La Rue, I see no reason why it has not been recorded as often as that of his contemporaries Josquin and Lassus. The massive headgear worn by the lady on the cover – thought to have been inspired by a 16th-century portrait of Juana ‘the mad’ – may look hopelessly dated but the music has an ethereal quality which transcends fashions and styles.
Hyperion already had a recording of de
La Rue’s Missa de Feria, Missa Sancta Dei Genitrix and shorter works performed by Gothic Voices directed by Christopher Page in 1997 on CDH55296 [64:36] – review. That’s on their Helios label and some dealers still have it at budget price for around £6.50 but the Hyperion download (mp3 and 16-bit, with pdf booklet) has reverted to full price at £7.99, still good value. Salve Regina VI features on both albums but it’s sung on the new recording whereas it and the other short pieces are performed in an attractive transcription for two lutes on Helios, so there’s effectively no overlap.
You’ll find my thoughts on the very fine Helios recording, together with two other recordings featuring de
La Rue in Download Roundup April 2011/2; the Etcetera recording mentioned there is now also available on a 5-CD set, KTC1519, for around £30. Music by de
La Rue also features on two fine Naxos recordings which I recommended in Download Roundup March 2011 and on a Naxos and an Obsidian recording, the latter a Recording of the Month, reviewed in Download News 2014/13.
My Bargain of the Month in DL News 2014/10 was an 8-CD set of Franco-Flemish Masterworks, including music by de
La Rue alongside Josquin, Gombert and Ockeghem, performed by the Hilliard Ensemble on Erato. Unfortunately that download has now rocketed in price but it’s still good value on CD for around £25 (6025332).
La Rue’s Requiem (Missa pro defunctis) is available on a number of recordings, including a Harmonia Mundi album performed by Ensemble Clément Janequin/Dominique Visse, together with the only available recording of his virtuoso Missa l’Homme armé in an appropriately virtuoso performance. Once available as a super-budget Musique d’Abord CD, it’s now download only – available inexpensively in mp3 and lossless from Presto or Qobuz but without booklet in either case. (HMA1951296).
I’ve taken more space recommending other recordings by the Brabant Ensemble and other recordings of the music of Pierre de
La Rue than on the new release: that’s for the simple reason that I’m sure that having once heard the very fine Hyperion performances and recording most lovers of renaissance music – and probably many who have yet to discover that they are – will want to explore both the composer and the musicians further.
I need hardly add, since I’ve said that so many times, too, that a first-rate release is rounded off with an equally fine booklet, the excellent notes from Stephen Rice illustrated with some charming pictures from the hours of Queen Juana or Joanna. One small observation: it’s always helpful to have the music on which a Mass is based – in this case a secular song and plainsong. That would have meant a programme too long for CD but feasible as a download bonus, something which other labels have occasionally done.
Hyperion gave up on the SACD format some time ago but the 24-bit download provides all the advantages except surround sound. At £13.50 it costs significantly more than the 16-bit (£8.99) but not much more than the CD.
As I was writing this review another recording of the music of Pierre de
La Rue appeared. On Challenge Classics CC72710 (SACD) Cappella Pratensis perform his Missa cum jocunditate, not otherwise available, interspersed with music in honour of the Virgin Mary. Entitled Visions of Joy: the Chapel of Hieronymus Bosch it attempts a reconstruction of the weekly Wednesday Mass which the artist would have attended as a member of the Brotherhood of Our Illustrious Lady, a fraternity to which the composer also belonged.
The singers share one large book, as shown in contemporary illustrations, a facsimile of the original manuscript. Directed now by Stratton Bull, they seem to have lost some of their originality of tone in favour of a style more akin to most modern performances of the music of this period, which is not necessarily a bad thing. They do, however, adhere to the Brabantian pronunciation of Latin. If anything I liked this better than their earlier recording of music for Pope Leo X – Download Roundup December 2010. So far I have had access only to the streamed version from Qobuz, which comes without booklet, so I’ve had to rely on the information from Channel Classics.