Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice

Cipriano de Rore: Missa Doulce Mémoire; Missa a note negre

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What did the sacred music of the great madrigalists sound like? For Italian composers, with the possible exception of Gesualdo, the question is hard to answer because their music hasn't been performed much. This release begins to address that lack. Cipriano de Rore was one of the Flemish composers imported by Italy's rich and famous in the 16th century (the Este family for the most part), and they got their money's worth: he was one of the key innovators of the minimally contrapuntal, highly text-sensitive madrigal style that later got imported to Britain. The two masses and three motets recorded here are naturally more conservative in style; they are basically parody masses that make use of preexisting French chansons; one of them, the Missa a note negre (Black-Note Mass), draws on a chanson by Rore himself. Yet as the title suggests, it's no ordinary Renaissance mass; rather, it contains an unusual amount of declamatory text (the "black notes" are not keyboard keys but short note values), matching the original chanson closely at these junctures. The two masses, in fact, are a bit more madrigalian than the motets, which could pass for music by Nicholas Gombert, Giaches de Wert, or Adrian Willaert (who have been dubbed the Ert Brothers). Perhaps the major attraction is the singing of Britain's Brabant Ensemble, among the finest a cappella choirs. This group of about a dozen singers achieves such a perfect blend that you wouldn't guess it was so small, and it has a way of giving the space in which it sings, here the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Oxford, an almost tactile presence. A superior Renaissance choral release, featuring music of an unjustly neglected composer.

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