John Scott Whiteley

Lassus: Great Choral Works

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The motets and comparatively less often heard masses (one is included here) of Orlande de Lassus aren't ideally suited to the English cathedral style of choral singing and popular collections by English choirs often avoid him in favor of the more limpid works of Josquin. There's an intimate, madrigal-esque quality to Lassus' writing that doesn't fully translate to the English sound, despite the (certainly disputed) suggestion made in the booklet here that Lassus may have come to England as a young man and been influenced by Tallis and other English composers. This rather unconventional disc may be a good pick for those who want to hear Lassus done en masse, British-style. The big attraction is the presence of girls in place of what would usually be boy sopranos and altos, an uncommon sound in Renaissance music and even in choral music in general. The Girl Choristers of the York Minster Choir are 20 in number -- a larger group than the men involved -- and they deliver a slight edge to the music's lines in highly expressive pieces like Timor et tremor (track 15), "Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me...." In the more formal pieces -- the mass, mass Proper pieces, and Magnificat Septimi toni, the choir is close to the equal of their better-known counterparts in the English cathedral sphere, and the program as a whole offers a range of Lassus' music not found on many other discs. This won't replace Lassus discs by the likes of the smaller Tallis Scholars or the various small Continental ensemble, but it's pleasing in its own right. The booklet gives a good general introduction to the music, including the intriguing tidbit that in Lassus' own time, half the printed in music was said to have been of his own composition. Notes are in English only; motet texts are given in Latin and English translation.

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