The profusion of choirs specializing in the music of the High Renaissance was one of the glories of the musical scene of the late 20th century. It is easy to forget, however, that these choirs built on the work of their predecessors, who themselves began with less than fully developed ideas of what some of the composers of the Renaissance were all about. The booklet for this 1981 recording, originally on Hyperion, reissued several times, and in 2010 re-released by the discriminating small American label Alto, was still written at a time when it was necessary to point out that the elevation of Palestrina over other composers of the late 16th century was due to extramusical factors. Those booklet notes seem to have been scanned and reproduced without editing -- with hilarious results when annotator Mark Brown is made to remark that "Lassus chose not to louse the Venetian style." The performances themselves, however, hold up a good deal better, and the engineering is better still; this was an early example of the ability of the Hyperion label's engineers to take London's churches on their own acoustic terms and produce superior results. The Pro Cantione Antiqua choir, a pioneering group from Britain, reproduces the qualities in Lassus that make him Palestrina's polar opposite, even as he worked at the same time and under the same constraints of the Catholic Counter Reformation. The Easter Sunday motets on the first part of the program are joyous works, with jubilation expressed in the momentum of repeated figures as they gather strength. The Requiem for four voices, one of Lassus' many settings of the Mass for the Dead, is a somber but wonderfully varied conception, with (to take just one example) the long notes of the Offertory dramatically emerging out of the plainchant Dies Irae. Well worthy of revival, this is a Lassus album that can stand with newer releases devoted to the composer, who still remains neglected in comparison with his Renaissance contemporaries, with many of his works still awaiting their premiere recordings.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa pro defunctis, for 4 voices|