Hassler Sacred Vocal Works
Hassler's Missa I super Dixit Maria, though far from representing the best of his work, is the perfect vehicle for displaying the dark and splendid sonority of the Ensemble Vocal Europeen de la Chapelle Royale. The group takes hold of the music by the scruff of its neck, and gives as convincing a performance as one could wish for. There is nothing English about the singing (in spite of the presence of four English singers in the group) except its precision but the rich glow of the sound is perfect for Hassler's restrained homophony. It does not quite save the Mass (its austerity does not convey deliberate restraint, but rather a certain pedestrian lack of imagination), but the Latin motets and the impressive Vater unser in Himmelreich cycle stand very well on their own feet. They are more polyphonic, but it is not simply because of this that they outshine the Mass—rather, Hassler here seems to be giving much fuller rein to his imagination and responding musically to the texts (though I do not mean by this simply word-painting). Lechner's motet Si bona suscepimus is similarly expansive and resourceful. In championing such obscure repertoire, Philippe Herreweghe and Harmonia Mundi might be thought to be taking a risk, but with performances of this calibre there is no cause for concern.'