As Orlande Lassus' production in the motet genre is of such enormity, the numerous published collections that appeared before his sons pulled them all apart to construct the Magnum Opus Musicum of 1604 are extremely useful in grasping their chronology and the context in which Lassus himself may have considered these things. Lassus' established valedictory work is the seven-voice madrigal collection Lagrime di San Pietro, which appeared one year after he died in 1594. However, in 1594 itself he also published in Graz a six-voice collection entitled Cantiones sacrae that is more or less in the same vein as the Lagrime -- mournful, masterful, and as summary for what was for Lassus a long and productive career. The Lagrime have been recorded entirely a number of times, even once by the expert group featured here, Collegium Vocale Ghent led by Philippe Herreweghe. However, the Cantiones sacrae doesn't seem to have been recorded by anyone before, not even part of it, though that is not 100% surprising as so much of Lassus' work remains untouched by recording artists. Therefore, Herreweghe has the scoop; however, it is not just of an interesting sidelight to the repertoire that only needed attention and might have well been forgotten without his advocacy. Cantiones sacrae is a major work, featuring Lassus at his best and in his most fully developed motet idiom. The singing, too, is flexible and fluid, superbly balanced and resolutely in tune; a key ingredient for success here, as the morphology of Lassus' vocal textures can be so rapid and disorienting, keeping the pitch centered can be a major job in itself. There are many highlights; a marvelous descending passage in Qui timet Deum; a dense web of polyphony spreading out from a single pitch as in Deficiat in dolore vita mea; a rolling, free-wheeling sense of imitation in Quam bonus Israel Deus. For those in tune with Renaissance polyphony, Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale's Cantiones sacrae is going to be essential listening and should not be missed, and one would think this little-known work's propinquity to Lagrime di San Pietro -- the last, great blast of Renaissance vocal music -- would be enough of a motivator in itself to bring out the tribe.
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AllMusic Review by Uncle Dave Lewis