LASSUS Musical Biography Vol 4
This is the fourth instalment in a musical biography of the true Renaissance man among late-Renaissance composers. As with preceding volumes, the anthology covers all the genres in which he worked: Mass, motet, madrigal, German song and of course French chanson. The programme works very well, not least because the choice of works is astute, nearly consistently out of the top drawer. In keeping with the set’s chronological approach, they are drawn from the final 15 years of Lassus’s life. The Missa super Dixit Joseph (never recorded previously as far as I’m aware) is a splendid work, complex and expansive, and the moving Musica Dei donum, which concludes the disc, is a fitting testament. The Italian and German works do not strike me quite so forcibly but the vignette Helas j’ay sans mercy illustrates Lassus’s ability to choose and clothe texts in his mother tongue with infinite discernment and subtlety. A complete recording of his chansons (or at least a substantial survey) is long overdue.
Odhecaton are surer-footed here than in the Gesualdo motet collection anthology I reviewed in November. Their interpretations are confident though not always pitch-perfect, but at their best these are valuable additions to the discography, particularly those of the pieces I’ve named. (There is, however, an audible misreading just before the 6'00" mark in the Credo of the Mass.) Lassus enthusiasts will find the booklet irresistible, with illustrations that convey the gloomy texture of the composer’s last years. Particularly poignant is the document of 1594 that lists him among the personnel that the ducal administration had decided to sack for lack of money: the ink was scarcely dry before it was crossed out with the laconic annotation, ‘dead’.