Golden Age of the European Polyphony (The)

A set designed for those starting to explore early polyphony; more seasoned observers will find it a mixed bag

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Golden Age of the European Polyphony (The)

  • Messe de Nostre Dame
  • Magnificat a 4
  • Missa, 'Se la face ay pale'
  • Salve regina I
  • Missa "Caput"
  • Requiem, Introitus: Requiem aeternam
  • Tu solus qui facis mirabilia
  • O virgo prudentissima
  • De profundis clamavi
  • Ave Maria...virgo serena
  • Salve regina
  • (La) déploration de Johannes Ockeghem: Nymphes d
  • Missa, '(L')homme armé' sexti toni
  • Lugebat David Absalon
  • Sancte Johannes Apostole
  • Ad te levavi oculos meos
  • Musae Jovis
  • Missa 'Beati Omnes'
  • Missa pro defunctis
  • O sacrum convivium
  • Emendemus in melius
  • Circumdederunt me
  • O nata lux de lumine
  • Audivi vocem de caelo
  • Sancte Deus, sancte fortis
  • O sacrum convivium
  • In jejunio et fletu
  • Salvator mundi, salva nos I
  • If ye love me
  • O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit
  • Verily, verily say I unto you
  • Hear the voice and prayer
  • Remember not, O Lord God
  • Lamentations of Jeremiah
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum, Carmina chromatica
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum, Virgine matre
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum, Ecce dies venient
  • Bon jour et puis quelles nouvelles
  • Paisible domaine
  • Im Mayen hört man die Hanen krayen
  • Chi chilichi
  • Matona mia cara
  • (La) Nuit froide et sombre
  • Mon coeur se recommande
  • Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales, De profundis
  • Missa 'Bell'Amfitrit'altera', Agnus Dei
  • (9) Lamentations of Jeremiah, 'Lamentationes Hiere, De lamentatione Jeremiae
  • Musica Dei donum optimi
  • Lagrime di San Pietro ... con un mottetto nel fine, Come falda di neve
  • Missa Pro defunctis, Introitus
  • Ave Maria, gratia plena
  • O magnum mysterium
  • Sancta Maria, succurre miseris
  • Salve regina
  • Missa O quam gloriosum
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, Tenebrae factae sunt
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, O vos omnes
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, Astiterunt reges
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, Aestimatus sum
  • Gaudent in coelis animae Sanctorum
  • Missa pro defunctis, Introitus
  • O Lord make thy servant
  • Great Service, Nunc dimittis
  • De lamentatione Hieremiae
  • Sing joyfully unto God our strength
  • Miserere mei, Deus
  • Circumdederunt me
  • Mass for five voices, Kyrie
  • Mass for three voices, Gloria
  • Mass for four voices, Credo
  • Mass for three voices, Sanctus - Benedictus
  • Mass for five voices, Agnus Dei
  • Ave verum corpus
  • Ave Maria
  • Gradualia, Vol 1/i: Saturday Lady Masses from East, Communion: Beata viscera
  • Gradualia, Vol 1/i: Saturday Lady Masses from East, Offertory: Beata es, virgo Maria
  • Gradualia, Vol 1/i: Feast of All Saints, Offertory: Iustorum animae
  • Missa ecce ego Johannes
  • Motets, Book 4, 'Canticum Canticorum', Osculetur me
  • Motets, Book 4, 'Canticum Canticorum', Nigra sum
  • Motets, Book 3, Hodie Christus natus est (8vv)
  • Il est bel et bon
  • Rest, sweet nymphs
  • Au joly jeu
  • Ach Elslein liebes Elselein
  • Mille regretz
  • La, la, la, je ne l'ose dire
  • (The) First Book of Songs or Ayres, Come againe: sweet loue doth now enuite
  • Valle, che de' lamenti
  • Lamentationum Hieremiae liber tertius (Good Friday), Lectio 1 Heth
  • Lamentationum Hieremiae liber tertius (Good Friday), Lectio 2 Lamed
  • Lamentationum Hieremiae liber tertius (Good Friday), Lectio 3 Aleph
  • Bonjour mon coeur
  • Or si rallegri il cielo
  • Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen
  • Of all the birds
  • Scherzi musicali, Zefiro torna, 'ciacona', 2vv (wds. Rinuccini)
  • (The) Silver swan
  • Chansons, Margot, labourez les vignes
  • Mijn hert altyt heeft verlanghen
  • (Il) Bianco e dolce cigno
  • Fair Phyllis I saw sitting all alone
  • Ach weh dess Leiden
  • (The) Second Booke of Songs or Ayres, Fine knacks for Ladies, cheap, choise, braue and new
  • Too much I once lamented
  • (Un) gentil amoureux
  • (La) Nuit froide et sombre
  • Tanzen und Springen
  • Paisible domaine
  • (The First Booke of) Balletts to Five Voyces, Now is the month of maying
  • Mon coeur se recommande
  • Missa O quam gloriosum
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, Tenebrae factae sunt
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, O vos omnes
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, Astiterunt reges
  • Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Tenebrae Responsories, Aestimatus sum
  • Gaudent in coelis animae Sanctorum
  • Missa pro defunctis, Introitus
  • O Lord make thy servant
  • Great Service, Nunc dimittis
  • De lamentatione Hieremiae
  • Sing joyfully unto God our strength
  • Miserere mei, Deus
  • Circumdederunt me
  • Mass for five voices, Kyrie
  • Mass for three voices, Gloria
  • Mass for four voices, Credo
  • Mass for three voices, Sanctus - Benedictus
  • Mass for five voices, Agnus Dei
  • Ave verum corpus
  • Ave Maria
  • Gradualia, Vol 1/i: Saturday Lady Masses from East, Communion: Beata viscera
  • Gradualia, Vol 1/i: Saturday Lady Masses from East, Offertory: Beata es, virgo Maria
  • Gradualia, Vol 1/i: Feast of All Saints, Offertory: Iustorum animae
  • Missa ecce ego Johannes
  • Motets, Book 4, 'Canticum Canticorum', Osculetur me
  • Motets, Book 4, 'Canticum Canticorum', Nigra sum
  • Motets, Book 3, Hodie Christus natus est (8vv)
  • Il est bel et bon
  • Rest, sweet nymphs
  • Au joly jeu
  • Ach Elslein liebes Elselein
  • Mille regretz
  • La, la, la, je ne l'ose dire
  • (The) First Book of Songs or Ayres, Come againe: sweet loue doth now enuite
  • Valle, che de' lamenti
  • Lamentationum Hieremiae liber tertius (Good Friday), Lectio 1 Heth
  • Lamentationum Hieremiae liber tertius (Good Friday), Lectio 2 Lamed
  • Lamentationum Hieremiae liber tertius (Good Friday), Lectio 3 Aleph
  • Bonjour mon coeur
  • Or si rallegri il cielo
  • Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen
  • Of all the birds
  • Scherzi musicali, Zefiro torna, 'ciacona', 2vv (wds. Rinuccini)
  • (The) Silver swan
  • Chansons, Margot, labourez les vignes
  • Mijn hert altyt heeft verlanghen
  • (Il) Bianco e dolce cigno
  • Fair Phyllis I saw sitting all alone
  • Ach weh dess Leiden
  • (The) Second Booke of Songs or Ayres, Fine knacks for Ladies, cheap, choise, braue and new
  • Too much I once lamented
  • (Un) gentil amoureux
  • (La) Nuit froide et sombre
  • Tanzen und Springen
  • Paisible domaine
  • (The First Booke of) Balletts to Five Voyces, Now is the month of maying
  • Mon coeur se recommande

Assembling an anthology such as this one is no easy matter: which composers‚ what works? In collaboration with the late Jean Salkin‚ Laudantes’ director Guy Janssens has compiled 11 CDs (and as many hours’ worth of music). Most feature a single composer‚ each represented by a Mass and a number of motets. So we find Machaut’s Mass and Dufay’s Se la face ay pale cycle; Josquin’s L’homme armé sexti toni‚ Palestrina’s Ecce ego Johannes and Victoria’s O quam gloriosum (along with a few of those composers’ best known motets); Tallis’s Lamentations‚ excerpts from the three Byrd Masses and the Gradualia. Other choices are less obvious‚ but representative none the less: Ockeghem’s Caput (and three of the motets)‚ Morales’ Requiem and Gombert’s Mass Beati omnes (the latter two‚ as far as I am aware‚ not otherwise available). The whole approach and the individual choices clearly signal the set’s presumed market‚ that of the curious novice wishing to dip a toe into the vast ocean of early polyphony.
As a ‘starter pack’‚ this does seem to press all the right buttons: the CD­ROM substitutes for what might have been a rather bulky booklet (the set as a whole is attractively and economically presented)‚ and contains a reasonably detailed commentary to each disc‚ as well as a glossary of some of the more technical terms. The super­budget price rounds off the equation‚ suggesting a Naxos­like enthusiasm for opening the music up to a wide audience.
I implied earlier that the set seems geared to a certain ‘listenership’ – a cautious way of saying that the qualities just noted will strike a more seasoned early music audience rather differently. After all‚ most of these works already exist in multiple performances of very high‚ or even superlative‚ quality. If the Josquin Mass selected had been Malheur me bat – one of a brace of his Masses still unavailable on CD – one would instantly have formed a rather different impression of the whole. The choice of motet excerpts makes the same point: Lassus’s Penitential Psalms exist in very fine complete recordings; so do his Lagrime di San Pietro‚ or Palestrina’s Canticum canticorum. From this more specialised standpoint‚ the selection may seem rather conservative‚ and in places‚ piecemeal. Josquin’s great contemporaries‚ for instance‚ barely get a look in (Isaac and La Rue get one song each)‚ and there is no secular music at all before the turn of the 16th century. So unless you’re a passionate fan of Gombert and must have that Mass (this isn’t irony: I rate Gombert very highly)‚ the more specialised listener will probably regard this as a stocking­filler‚ and (I suggest) enjoy it on that basis.
I have refrained from mentioning the performances so far‚ since the question of the target audience necessarily influences one’s judgement. My ‘curious novices’ will be looking for a way into the music‚ and will (one hopes) branch out and expand their listening from there. They will find the recordings of Josquin and Palestrina particularly well executed‚ the textures and sonorities clear and limpid. Much of the Tallis‚ Byrd‚ and Victoria is fine‚ too (barring a few disappointments: Tallis’s Lamentations‚ for instance)‚ and the final disc of the set‚ entirely given over to songs‚ is perhaps the most enjoyable of all‚ for all its extreme eclecticism. Clearly the singers (soloists‚ rather than the mixed‚ medium­sized choir that usually prevails) are freer to enact the words through the music‚ and they respond spontaneously with individuality and a sense of fun. Surprisingly for a project from a Belgian ensemble‚ however‚ the disc devoted to Lassus is the one major disappointment of the later period: the songs in particular are poorly done‚ which is surprising‚ given the success of the song disc just mentioned. But the real difficulties affect the earlier period: some ‘cooking’ of lines is necessary for the choir to cope with Dufay’s Mass (the tenor part in particular)‚ much of the point of Ockeghem’s Caput setting is lost by transposing the piece upwards‚ and Machaut is the least well served of all: slow and forced‚ Laudantes’ performance of the Mass clearly demonstrates that the composer must have intended either one or at most two singers on each part. Yet another reason‚ then‚ for specialists to take this set in the spirit in which it is offered‚ and make up their minds accordingly.
In justice to the project one ought to mention the CD­ROM. Beyond the obvious drawback of disadvantaging those with no access to a computer‚ it makes little use of the opportunities presented by the medium. There is a sample track from each CD‚ but this is surely superfluous. Far better would have been illustrations from the iconography of the period: choirs singing‚ a few of the composers‚ some partbooks or choirbooks… but there are none to speak of. Finally‚ Salkin’s texts are informative and certainly engaging‚ but not always as accurate as one would like; and there is a tendentiously pro­Belgian slant to some statements. (Dufay was almost certainly born in Cambrai‚ and cannot therefore be considered Belgian!) Yet the charm of these idiosyncratic touches rubs off on the set as a whole. A mixed response‚ then; but how could it be otherwise?

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