music has already had the considerable benefit of recordings
such as those by The Tallis Scholars – his eight Magnificats
on two CDs from Gimell (see review) – and The Hilliard Ensemble – a
miscellany on ECM. These recordings have set high standards,
us just how wonderful Gombert’s sacred choral music is. It
is a pleasure to be able to report that this new recording
from Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata is of a similarly
in Flanders, Gombert may well have studied with Josquin Desprez,
perhaps in his final years at Condé-sur-l’Escaut. By 1526
he was a member of the Imperial Chapel Choir and travelled
with Charles V in Spain, northern Italy and Austria. Around
1530 he was made magister puerorum, responsible for
the boys’ choir. In 1540, however, sexual misconduct with
one of the boys of that choir led to his banishment to the
galleys. Later granted an Imperial pardon, he seems to have
spent his last years as a canon of the Cathedral of Tournai,
in modern Belgium.
Jeremy Summerly points out in his booklet notes to this CD,
the standard view that “Gombert’s music takes the transparent
consonances of Josquin’s generation and muddies the harmonic
waters in preparation for the rich late-sixteenth-century
polyphonic style of Palestrina’s generation” runs
the risk of making Gombert sound merely “an important if
rather unglamorous link between the Low and the High Renaissance”.
Putting the stress on Gombert’s role as a ‘link’ all too
easily leads to the ignoring of the individuality and quality
of his own remarkable achievement.
is undoubtedly one of the masters of sacred polyphony. He
makes extensive use of imitation, more than his master Josquin.
It was, in part, for his particular skill in the use of this
technique that Hermann Finck praised Gombert in his Practica
musica of 1556. It is used strikingly in the setting
of Tulerunt Dominum which opens this CD. Still more remarkable
is the Salve Regina. Here, in what Summerly rightly
describes as “one of the finest contrapuntal achievements
of any age”, Gombert creates beautiful and moving music from
the interweaving and reshaping of seven Marian plainsong
melodies – Alma Redemptoris Mater, Inviolata, Ave
Regina, Salve Regina, Beata Mater, Ave
Maria and Hortus Conclusus. The results are exquisite,
the music utterly sophisticated technically speaking, disarmingly
simple on the surface.
the four-part motet Super flumina Babylonis is a moving
and powerful setting of Psalm 136, richly expressive and
various in its vocal colours; in the eight-voiced Credo textures
undergo a range of subtle metamophoses. The Magnificat is
a remarkable work, alternating polyphonic sections with plainchant.
But Gombert seeks more than that simple pattern of contrast.
In the polyphonic sections, the number of voices, and therefore
the complexity of texture, is constantly changing. Four-part
writing in the first two sections is replaved by three-part
writing in the next; four-part writing returns, only to be
succeeded by five-part and six-part writing.
would be redundant to enumerate the quality of every single
one of the pieces included on this CD. It is one of the best
of all of Oxford Camerata’s recordings for Naxos, and any
admirer of Renaissance polyphony needs to add it to his or
texts and translations are provided, and Jeremy Summerly’s
notes, though relatively brief, are excellent.
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