The music of Nicolas Gombert (accent it like "Dilbert"), from the generation after Josquin in the middle sixteenth century, develops Josquin's language in the direction of greater density. His unaccompanied sacred choral works are luxuriant things, both difficult and greatly rewarding for choirs. His name is less well known than that of Josquin or Palestrina owing to a confluence of factors: his music presents a rather forbidding wall of sound to the listener, without striking details for the general listener to grab on to, and he was a convicted child sexual abuser who did time pulling oars in the fetid galley of a ship. He won a pardon by composing a series of eight Magnificats in the various church modes, the first of which is included on this disc, and in general the Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerly offers a good introduction to this composer for anyone who likes unaccompanied choral music. Several motets with grim texts bring out the most distinctive feature of Gombert's style: a tendency toward low ranges illuminated by stabs of sharp dissonance as if by blood-red light. His response to the Super flumina Babylon (By the waters of Babylon) and Media vita in morte sumus (In the middle of life we are already in death) texts are intensely felt. The Magnificat primi toni (Magnificat in Mode One) and an eight-part Credo give an idea of the big, dense Gombert style without spending time investigating his masses -- by this time the mass was no longer on the forward edge stylistically. A concluding Epitaphium in memory of Josquin is an unusually profound example of the tribute-piece genre that runs through the heart of the Renaissance choral repertory. The Oxford Camerata, a 16-voice, mixed-gender choir, is sympathetic to Gombert's music; the female sopranos and altos bring a needed power and lushness to the texture that boy singers cannot, but they don't lose the transparency necessary to bring forth the inner voices. The bright Oxford chapel sound occasionally degenerates into a sequence of hissing and clicking consonants but is attractive for the most part.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim