DE LA RUE Missa Nuncqua Fue Pena Mayor
After 10 years of recordings with Hyperion, Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble can look back on a truly enviable catalogue, contributing substantially to the availability of 16th-century polyphony in recordings of a really high quality. Their ensemble here, four men and four women, is not only entirely unlike what any 16th-century choir would have been but seems on the face of it quite unsuited to the music they perform. On the other hand, these are all such marvellous musicians, and so beautifully controlled by Rice, that nothing in the music seems lost or compromised.
As in most of their other recordings, they have concentrated on a single composer and on works that have never been recorded: so far as I can see, only one of them has been recorded before, and that a long time ago. But the point is not the obscurity of the repertory so much as that they have chosen superb works. And it must be stressed that – purely in terms of the number of copies of his works that survive in 16th-century sources – Pierre de la Rue is second only to Josquin.
The Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor is based on one of the loveliest of all 15th-century songs, by the Fleming Wreede who made a career for himself in Spain under the name Urrede. Its most characteristic feature is its painful Phrygian E modality, to match the unredeemed sadness of the text. But oddly La Rue ends all movements but the last on G (and one is inclined to think that the last suffers from a transmission problem). The Missa Inviolata is a highly resourceful work, far more varied than the other, closing with one of the most glorious of La Rue’s Agnus settings. But the disc ends with the biggest surprise of all, the Magnificat sexti toni, bursting with energy and variety. Once again, then, a stunningly satisfying and innovative disc from The Brabant Ensemble.