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Lupus HELLINCK (Wulfaert Hellingk) (1493/94-1541)
Missa Surrexit pastor bonus [32:09]
Johannes LUPI (Jean Leleu) (c.1506-1539)
Salve celeberrima virgo [9:40]
Quam pulchra es [6:48]
Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel [3:49]
Te Deum laudamus [17:55]
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. 24-26 January 2019, Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Loughton, Essex. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
Also available in mp3, 16-bit and 24/192 lossless formats.
HYPERION CDA68304 [70:39]

The Brabant Ensemble has brought us several recordings of rare repertoire, four of which we are reminded of in the booklet:
- CDA68265: Antoine de FÉVIN Missa Ave Maria and Missa Ave sancta parens (review review Winter 2018-19/2)
- CDA68216: Jacob OBRECHT Missa Grecorum and Motets (review)
- CDA68150: Pierre de la RUE Missa Nunquam fue pena mayor and Missa inviolata: Recording of the Month (review review)
- CDA68088: JACQUET of Mantua Missa Surge Petre and Motets (review review)

All of these recordings include music which is otherwise unavailable. Reviewing the most recent of these, the Févin recording, I wrote of ‘the very high quality of the performances, recording … and presentation – and above all ... expanding our knowledge of the music of this period with such very fine works’. Now they bring us more ground-breaking repertoire, by two composers who were not even names to me prior to this release, but whose neglect seems very hard to justify in the light of this recording.

Lupus Hellinck doesn’t warrant even a mention in any of the books that I checked, though, inevitably, there’s an article on Wikipedia. At one time his identity was confused with that of Johannes Lupi, who receives a brief mention in the Oxford Companion to Music, noting that ‘His surviving works … are notable for their high quality’. There are no other recordings of the music on the new Hyperion recording, though a few short pieces by these composers are included in anthologies such as Doulce Mémoire’s 2-CD set of music for Francis I (Zig Zag ZZT357 – review).

It’s perhaps not just the similarity of their names that led to these two composers being confused. This is very well-crafted music, but it lacks the ultimate distinctiveness of the music of the earlier music of Josquin or the later music of Palestrina. If you can afford only one recent recording of renaissance polyphony, you might prefer The Tallis Scholars in their latest Josquin (Missa Mater Patris, with Bauldeweyn, Missa Da pacem, Gimell CDGIM052 – review : Recommended – review) or Cinqucento in Palestrina’s Lamentations (Hyperion CDA68284 – review).

Back in 2004 Robert Hugill reviewed the Brabant Ensemble’s recording of the music of Jacobus Clemens non Papa (Signum SIGCD045). He mentioned the ‘fine musicianship with a good feel for the music of the period... performances … of a high quality and … a good feel for the shape and line of the music’. All those qualities have remained apparent in their subsequent recordings, including the present release, but he also mentioned that he ‘could have wished for better diction’, and that, too, has remained something of a constant.

I could hardly wish for a more beautiful realisation of the music here, but I do wonder if we might not have had a little more clarity of diction. Perhaps in this age when the classics have been forgotten it matters as little to most listeners that I found it almost impossible to hear most of the words, even knowing the text of the Latin Mass and Te Deum almost by heart, as if the text was in Estonian, but it was enough to withhold the ‘Recommended’ label which I would otherwise assuredly have attached. It’s less apparent on those tracks where the music is less elaborate and fewer voices are employed, as in the Benedictus (track 14), but even there the diction is not wholly clear. I don’t wish to reopen the old debate about the primacy of words or music and I’m well aware that even in the early sixteenth-century very few listeners would have understood Latin. It was not until the Council of Trent, later in the century, that similar restrictions were placed on composers for the Latin rite which Cranmer had imposed on English composers such as Tallis and Byrd. Surely, however, the words have to count in music offered to God.

It’s in no way the fault of the recording or the acoustic. As heard in 24-bit sound, everything is crystal clear. At £13.50 for 24/96 sound (with 16-bit for £8.50), that’s little more than you would pay for the CD, typically around £10.50. Real audiophiles will find 24/192 on offer for £15.75 – but be warned: that’s a large file and takes a good while to download unless you are on full-fibre broadband.  It also takes up a lot of space, even though I'm already keeping my latest downloads on an 8TB external drive.

If clarity of Latin diction, or lack of it, is no problem for you, everything else about the present release is of very high quality. I don’t mean to sound disparaging if I recall Beecham’s bon mot that the English don’t understand music but they like the noise it makes. The Brabant Ensemble make a very fine noise indeed.

I’ve mentioned the quality of the recording. The booklet is up to Hyperion’s usual high standard, too. All too often record companies give us a cover that bears no relation to the music inside, but the French painting of the Harrowing of Hell on the cover here is roughly contemporary with the music and relevant to the Easter theme of Hellinck’s Mass: Surrexit pastor bonus, the Good Shepherd has risen.

If only the diction had been clearer, I would have had no reservations.

Brian Wilson



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