Huelgas Ensemble / Paul van Nevel

Jacobus de Kerle: "Da Pacem Domine" Messes & Motets

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The notes to this Harmonia Mundi disc proclaim Flemish composer Jacobus de Kerle (1531 or 1532-1591) as a "forgotten master of counterpoint," and the contents do a good job of justifying the claim. The career of de Kerle has much in common with that of Orlande de Lassus: both were well-trained northerners who plied their trade around southern and central Europe, and both extended the classical balance of high Franco-Flemish counterpoint in distinctive ways. This is an attractive disc of a cappella Renaissance choral music for specialists and casual listeners alike. The rather sharp-edged lines of Paul van Nevel's small Huelgas-Ensemble clarify the main points of interest in this music: it is full of small, unusual details of texture and harmony. Van Nevel chooses to present excerpts of several masses along with some shorter motets and an Italian madrigal -- a reasonable way of getting a good sampling of the work of an almost unknown composer. The highlights begin with the Credo of the Missa da pacem domine, track 1, with its subtle movement out of the established mode to depict Christ's birth in the "et incarnatus" section. The Cantio octo vocum de sacro foedere contra Turcas (Song in Eight Voices on the Holy League Against the Turks), a military song about the Crusades, is not a balm to Christian-Islamic relations, but it is an unusual programmatic piece that bears little resemblance to those in other Renaissance "battle" traditions. All the music included has the mix of rigor and emotional appeal heard in the best music of Lassus, and this disc stands as a major discovery in the main line of Renaissance choral music.

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