LASSUS Biographie Musicale Vol III
After an uncertain start, this five-volume ‘discographical biography’ of Lassus has hit its stride. Each volume is entrusted to a different vocal ensemble, each from a different country. For this volume, covering the composer’s career at its zenith in the 1570s, it’s the turn of the Dutch Egidius Kwartet. As with the previous volume from the German ensemble Singer Pur, a mixture of genres sees Latin, German, Italian and French rub shoulders, as is appropriate for the famously polyglot Lassus. There’s also an unusually broad range of styles. The Magnificat parody on Las je n’iray is classic Lassus, and the motet Anna mihi dilecta is as extreme in its chromaticism as anything in the Prophetiae Sybillarum. The sublimely lyrical Beau le cristal, written in the purest ‘Parisian’ vein, is surely one of his finest songs. Then there’s a genuinely odd piece, the louche Latin verse Bestia curvafia, which Jacobus Gallus wouldn’t have disowned. Another discographical rarity is a modal cycle of textless duos, performed here on viols, one of which is (in all but name) a virtuoso fantasia on the Josquinian motif la sol fa re mi. Lassus really could do it all.
Given such variety, it’s a testament to these artists that the recital holds together so well. Egidius Kwartet is joined principally by two sopranos who add a welcome brightness, though one of them is more secure technically than the other. For the most part the quality of the programme is matched by the performances: only the three Mass movements seem out of place, and their delivery is correspondingly tentative.