This release by Germany's Peñalosa-Ensemble covers early Renaissance music known mostly through its mention in textbooks. Much of it is given over to German organ music of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, with organist Raimund Schächer playing an instrument in the village of Rysum in northern Germany's Friesland region. It was built in the Dutch city of Groningen and, one learns, paid for with cows. Tracks 2 through 7 include music from the Buxheim Organ Book (1470), Germany's first major collection of keyboard music; it contains pieces based on both sacred and secular models. Most interesting and unusual are the rough and rather dramatic pieces by the almost unknown composers of the following couple of generations: Hans Buehner, Johannes Kotter (welcome back to the repertory!), and Leonhard Kleber. The organ registrations combine beautifully to highlight the experiments and surprises in these pieces from the early days of keyboard music; sample especially track 14, Kotter's Praeambulum in sol, with its stentorian buzzing reed giving voice to the new spirit of improvisatory fantasy. The vocal pieces are by Josquin's contemporary Pierre de la Rue. They are performed with one voice per part, and in various other ways the performances seem to be constructed to take a side in scholarly and interpretive debates. Musica ficta (the addition of what would now be called sharps and flats) is applied, adding strong elements of contrast to the movements of the Missa O gloriosa Margaretha, and the singing is not inexpressive despite the rigorous elimination of vibrato the female singers undertake in order to suggest the sound of boy singers. The booklet is in German, English, and French; the English translation is thoroughly inadequate, but material helpful to the newcomer, especially regarding the origins of de la Rue's motets and how those origins relate to the expressive styles of the music, does seep through.
Pierre de la Rue: Missa; Vexilla Regis; Considera Israel Review
by James Manheim