The idea of a "biographie musicale" of Roland de Lassus makes sense, even though his music, like that of other composers of the 16th century, is rarely treated chronologically. Lassus was the first international composer, excelling according to the needs of his employers in French chansons, German lieder, Italian madrigals and lighter music, and major religious forms in the by-then "classical" Franco-Flemish polyphonic style. He picked up these skills during a long period of traveling around Europe and working in various posts (even visiting France for the fun of it) during the first part of his life. It is this part of his career, his "années de jeunesse" (years of youth), that is documented by this release by the one-voice-per-part Ludus Modalis under Bruno Boterf. There are pieces in Italian, French, and Latin (the German phase came later), and many of them have a kind of ambitious quality that's easy to hear as youthful. The sacred pieces and the madrigals alike are filled with strong contrasts of light and shade, and consider the way extraordinary formal variety is matched with a lengthy text in the madrigal Non ha tente serene (track 12). Ludus Modalis records live, and the engineering carries a strong sense of immediacy as well as a good deal of non-musical sound. The scope that the singers get out of a half-dozen voices in Lassus' big motets is impressive. There's a bit of roughness in their sound; for many this will be preferable to the British cathedral ideal, but sample to see if you like it. This album does not contain the really famous Lassus pieces (although they may appear on later recordings in the series), but for anyone intrigued by this composer it's a fresh look at his development.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim