England's Brabant Ensemble specializes in sacred choral music of the middle 16th century, mostly from present-day Belgium and The Netherlands. Its name comes from the Duchy of Brabant, an incredibly fertile area of the Low Countries whose composers were in demand among Italy's powerful families, shaped European music continent-wide, and was the primary component in what is thought of today as "Renaissance choral music."
Yet, despite all the emphasis in music history books on the music of this region, ensembles addressing the repertory specifically have been scarce. Conductor Stephen Rice, a freelance choral director and a scholar investigating the work of Nicolas Gombert, noted this neglect and founded the Brabant Ensemble in Oxford in 1998. The ensemble cultivates a small-group sound but has not sung with one voice per part; two is common in their output. It is made up of adult men and women.
The group made its recording debut in 2004 with an album of music by the composer Clemens non Papa for the Signum label, but then moved to Hyperion and has remained with that label through 20 recordings and counting. A few have been of foreign composers influenced by the Netherlandish style, such as Cristóbal de Morales and, in a 2013 release, Palestrina. Other releases have involved music by figures hardly known even to Renaissance specialists beyond a few pieces. These have included Thomas Crecquillon, Pierre de Manchicourt, Dominique Phinot, and Pierre Moulu. Several of the Brabant Ensemble's albums have been nominated for Gramophone awards.
The Brabant Ensemble has toured widely, giving concerts in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Portugal, in addition to its musical home ground of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The group made its Wigmore Hall debut in 2016, a significant achievement for musicians who have made very specialized repertory come alive for general listeners. The group has also appeared at festivals, including the Festival de Lanvellec et Trégor, in Brittany, France, in 2017. The Brabant Ensemble remained busy through the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing an album of music by little-known Flemish composers Johannes Lupi and Lupus Hellinck in 2020, a collection of lesser-known motets and mass movements by Josquin Desprez in 2021, and a recording of Jean Mouton's Missa Faulte d'Argent in 2022.