de la Rue Portrait Musical
For my money, Capilla Flamenca is currently among the top two or three ensembles for early Renaissance polyphony, and Pierre de la Rue is the composer on whom they’ve lavished the most recordings. But even if you’ve got all four of the discs from which this new set is compiled, you may yet be tempted by the inclusion of a fourth Mass, Sub tuum praesidium, of which the new recording happens also to be the first. Incidentally, no composer of this generation apart from Josquin is now better represented on disc, with more of his works available in performances of real distinction.
That’s as well, because though no stranger to striking gestures (as the chansons recorded here eloquently demonstrate), La Rue’s idiom is more understated, less immediately striking than, say, Obrecht’s or Agricola’s. But understatement has its own eloquence: the Kyrie of Missa Alleluia, for example, is a classically poised essay in ostinato technique, while the more elaborate Mass of the Seven Sorrows is a masterpiece by any standard (and its performance by Capilla Flamenca one of the finest recordings of a 15th-century Mass on CD): the appearance of a quotation from Josquin’s Ave Maria, virgo serena at the Osanna is simply sublime. The Missa Ave Maria and the aforementioned Sub tuum praesidium don’t contain gestures as memorable as this but, as I say, La Rue is a ‘slow-burner’, and in performances of this quality the music’s subtleties will more readily disclose themselves to the attentive listener.
The motets and chansons included here are every bit as accomplished as the Masses and, as I suggested earlier, they communicate perhaps more immediately: the motet Doleo super te (itself the third part of a larger piece, alas not included in its entirety) and the chanson Pourquoy non are both deeply affecting. Add to this the new set’s handsome, beautifully illustrated packaging and it’s clear that Capilla Flamenca and Musique en Wallonie have done La Rue proud.