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Treasures of Devotion - European Spiritual Song ca. 1500
The Boston Camerata/Anne Azéma
rec. 2017, Benedictine abbey church of St Pierre-St Paul, Ferrières-en-Gâtinais, France
Texts and translations included
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1296 [53:14]

The name of the label which released the present disc, indicates what it is about: the connection between music and the visual arts. The programme which Anne Azéma and her ensemble The Boston Camerata put together, was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters, New York, at the occasion of the exhibition 'Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures', which was displayed in the two museums as well as the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. The ensemble performed its programme in all three exhibition venues in 2017.

Anne Azéma, in her liner-notes, writes: "A world of religious scenes of unparalleled precision and poetry has been opened up to the observer. Each of these tiny objects, part of a major international exhibit of early Renaissance devotional objects the direct inspiration for this musical program, calls us to deep, private meditation; sometimes tormented, sometimes luminous." It inspired her and her colleagues to a programme of devotional music for performance in domestic surroundings rather than liturgical music. It makes this disc all the more interesting. There are quite a number of discs with masses and motets of the Renaissance on the market, but this kind of repertoire is mostly overlooked. One of its features is that many pieces are inspired by or based on secular music. A number of items included in the programme are so-called contrafacta: existing pieces of secular music, often very well-known and written by some of the main composers of the time, are given new spiritual texts. Another important genre is the parody: an existing melody is used as the starting point for a new composition. We know this procedure from many masses of the Renaissance, but it was also applied to other kinds of works, such as motets.

The programme opens with an example of the latter practice: Heinrich Isaac used the famous tune Fortuna desperata for a litany of saints. Whereas the tenors sing a sequence of invocations of various saints (Peter, Paul, Jacob, Thomas, and others), the secular tune is performed instrumentally. Later in the programme we hear a short excerpt from his Missa Carminum, which is based on another famous tune, one of his own making: Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, which is performed after the Christe eleison from the Mass. Another widely-known tune was De tous bien plaine, which is performed here in several versions. It was also used for sacred music, but no piece of this kind is performed here.

One of the main composers of French chansons was Pierre Certon. His colleague Jean Daniel, who was a composer himself and an organist by profession, replaced the text of his chanson J'ay le rebours by lyrics to be sung during Christmas time (Chantons Noël). It is an example of a contrafactum, as is Or vous tremoussez pasteurs de Judée, which was originally a rather bawdy song by an anonymous composer. In such cases the text is completely different, but in other cases the new text is only slightly different from the original one. That is the case with Tant que vivray, one of the best-known chansons by Claudin de Sermisy. The original text, written by Clément Marot, says: "As long as I live in my prime, I shall serve the mighty king of Love, in deeds, in words, in songs, in harmonies. That king made me languish a while." It is followed here by a version with a text by Eustorg de Beaulieu: "As long as I live in my prime, I shall serve the all-powerful Lord, in deeds, in words, in songs, in harmonies. The old serpent [Satan] held me languishing".

The largest part of the programme consists of adaptations of music by some of the main composers of the time, created by minor masters, such as Jean Daniel. There is one exception: Jacobus Clemens non Papa. In 1556-57 the music printer Tilman Susato published three-part Psalm settings in Dutch from Clemens's pen, known as souterliedekens. These were intended for domestic performance. Although Clemens was not a Protestant, with these souterliedekens he paved the way for later versifications of the Book of Psalms, which were to be sung in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands. Some of these settings are apparently original, such as Loven so wilt mijn siel de Heer (Psalm 145/146), but his setting of Psalm 4, Als ick riep met verlanghen, is an adaptation of an anonymous love song from the Antwerp Songbook (1544), Het daghet in den oosten.

The two pieces by Senfl and Schlick are of the same vein. The latter is known as one of the most brilliant organists of his time. Maria zart is one of his best-known pieces. It is nice that here it is performed as a vocal work, which fits perfectly in this programme of devotional music: "Tender Mary, of noble kind, a rose without thorns". Ludwig Senfl was a composer of considerable standing, who for some reasons does not receive the attention he deserves. His song Ewiger Gott is not unlike the Tenorlieder, the best-known genre in his oeuvre.

It is a shame that the programme is a bit short. In a live performance a little over 50 minutes may not be that much of a problem, but on disc one would like to get some more, especially if the music is as interesting as what is on offer here and if it is performed so well. This is quite fascinating stuff, and one has to hope that more ensembles are going to explore this aspect of renaissance music which in performances and on disc is seriously underexposed. I strongly urge anyone interested in the music of the Renaissance to investigate this disc. The performers have found the right approach to this repertoire. The singing and playing is excellent, and the various combinations of voices and instruments make the programme all the more entertaining. Lastly, I should not forget to compliment the singers for their command of Dutch.

Johan van Veen

Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517)
Fortuna desperata/Sancte Petre/Ora pro nobis [01:37]
Alexander AGRICOLA (1446-1506)
Fortuna desperata/O morte, dispietata [01:29]
Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (1510-1555)
Here, lieve Here [01:30]
HAYNE VAN GHEZEGHEM (c1445-after 1476)
De tous biens plainen [01:26]
Arnolt SCHLICK (1455-1525)
Maria zart [02:03]
Alexander AGRICOLA
De tous biens plaine [01:27]
JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450-1521)
De tous biens plaine [01:38]
Alexander AGRICOLA
De tous biens plaine [01:35]
Pierre CERTON (?-1572), arr Jean DANIEL (c1480/1501-c1550)
Chantons Noël, menons joyeuse vie [02:58]
Adrian LE ROY (c1520-1598) (ed)
Premier branle de Bourgongne [02:47]
anon, arr Jean DANIEL
Or vous tremoussez, pasteurs de Judée [02:32]
Pierre MOULU (?1484-c1550)
Et d'où venez vous Madame Lucette [01:49]
Pierre MOULU (attr)
Amy souffrés [03:09]
Pierre MOULU (attr), arr Jean DANIEL
Pêcheurs souffrez [02:42]
Ludwig SENFL (1486-1543)
Ewiger Gott, aus des Gebot [02:;03]
Loyset COMPÈRE (1445-1518), arr Francesco Canova DA MILANO (1497-1543)
O bone Jesu [02:35]
Claudin DE SERMISY (1490-1562) (ed Clément MAROT, 1496-1544)
Tant que vivray [01:13]
Claudin DE SERMISY, arr Eustorg DE BEAULIEU (c1495-1552)
Tant quue vivray [03:30]
Het daghet in den oosten [01:21]
Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa (1510-1555)
Als ick riep met verlangen [03:48]
Heinrich ISAAC
Missa Carminum:
Christe eleison [00:53]
Innsbruck ich muss dich lassen [02:47]
Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa:
Loven so wilt mijn siel den Heer [01:53]
In te Domine speravi [02:04]

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