Ensemble Clément Janequin / Dominique Visse

Au Sainct Nau

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This little-heralded release from France's consistently inventive Alpha label offers a window onto a fascinating, little-heard repertory of the French Renaissance, itself underrepresented as a whole on recordings in comparison with Netherlandish and Italian varieties. It's a Christmas album, and its booklet takes as a point of departure a quotation from poet Barthélemy Aneau about families who would "innocently pass the time in joyous Christmas carols" on long winter evenings instead of with "lascivious songs." Some of the carols, by Claudin de Sermisy and a variety of lesser-known composers, have links to those lascivious songs; do not fail to check out Clément Janequin's Il estoyt une fillette (There was a maid, track 6) with its delightful religious adaptation of what must originally have been a pretty raunchy text. On the other hand, the program sets these semi-popular pieces against the more elevated language of the Catholic mass, represented by parts of Jacques Arcadelt's Missa Noe noe, whose motet model by Jean Mouton is also present. The troped Kyrie of this mass, recapitulating the story of Christ's birth, is intriguing, as are the topical references (check out O gras tondus, the spoken attack on corrupt monks, track 16) and the colloquial variants of French along the way. The overall effect of the program is medieval, with different moods and social layers coexisting. Dominique Visse and his Ensemble Clément Janequin, augmented by the Trio Musica Humana, match this with just slightly rough singing that puts across the flavor of the texts beautifully. This may seem a rather specialized release, but it is of interest to anyone who likes the music of the 16th century.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:40
2 1:20
3 1:47
4 3:21
Missa Noe noe
5 8:06
6 3:01
7 4:02
8 3:26
9 3:48
10 1:47
11 8:19
12 1:37
13 3:42
14 1:37
15 3:34
16 1:42
17 1:32
18 2:16
Missa Noe noe
19 7:46
blue highlight denotes track pick