ROGIER Choral Works
These two new recordings explore the rich polychoral repertory of the late 16th century, which may with justification be regarded as a harbinger of Baroque sensibility. Several years ago Magnificat recorded the Missa Ego sum qui sum by Philippe Rogier, one of Philip II of Spain’s chapelmasters. Both the work and the performance were so convincing that a second visit is not entirely surprising, for all Rogier’s comparative obscurity, and the choice of pieces, being exclusively polychoral, contrasts with the earlier recording. This type of writing tends to a certain conventionality, which places the responsibility on the performers to bring to the fore the music’s spatial and dynamic qualities, as well as clothe it in suitably opulent colours. The purpose of such music, after all, is to instil a sense of the marvellous. Whether Magnificat entirely achieve this is debatable: the Missa Domine Dominus noster was previously recorded for Ricercar under the direction of Jean Tubéry, whose faster tempi, more incisive approach and variegated sonic image are ultimately more compelling. That the new recording lacks the polish and panache of Magnificat’s previous Rogier disc is partly explained by the fact that the ensemble’s membership on the two discs is almost entirely different. That said, the chance to hear more of Rogier’s music is undoubtedly welcome.
By contrast, I Fagiolini had no choice but to “super-size” themselves to do justice to Alessandro Striggio’s monumental Missa Ecco sì beato giorno, recently rediscovered by Davitt Moroney and given its first performance in modern times at the Proms in 2007. The composer toured Europe in 1567, either with this piece or the 40-part motet Ecce beatam lucem, famously provoking a response from Tallis. Striggio’s motet has often been recorded alongside Spem in alium but here we go one better with all three (and a selection of motets that make the case for Striggio’s accomplishments more completely). In a move typical of Renaissance Masses, Striggio piles on 20 more voices in the final Agnus Dei. A friend of mine, listening to this recording, mouthed the word “minimalism”; and the sense of waveforms shaped around recurring harmonic patterns does indeed remind one of latter-day musical developments. It’s easy to compare Striggio unfavourably to the great Englishman but the new work especially reveals that to do so misses the point. The variegated plumage Striggio intended for his creation induces precisely the marvel I mentioned earlier and I Fagiolini seem to revel in the showy splendour of it all. The comparison’s often valid for polychoral music generally but the monumental canvas on which Striggio works makes it especially so. When at last we’re given Spem, we’re made to appreciate the parallel as never before, not least because Hollingworth has chosen his combination of voices and instruments with care. This time, Striggio’s contribution is not heard as the “also-ran” in a competition; rather, it is the creative irritant whose siren song stirred the “humble and quiet” Tallis into superb arrogance. Worth hearing? Definitely.