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Christmas with the Shepherds
Jean MOUTON (before 1459-1522)
Quaeramus cum pastoribus [5:41]
Cristóbal de MORALES (c. 1505-1553)
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Kyrie [5:28]; Gloria [6:30]
Puer natus est nobis [7:15]
Cristóbal de MORALES
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Credo [11:31]
Noe, noe, noe, psallite noe [4:41]
Cristóbal de MORALES
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Sanctus & Benedictus [5:52]
Pastores dicite, quidnam vidistis? [4:02]
Missa Quaeramus cum pastoribus: Agnus Dei [6:26]
Annibale STABILE (c. 1535-1595)
Quaeramus cum pastoribus [5:22]
The Marian Consort (Emma Walshe (soprano), Gwendolen Martin (soprano), Rory McCleery (counter-tenor), Ashley Turnell (tenor), Guy Cutting (tenor), Rupert Reid (bass) Christopher Borrett (bass), plus Daniel Collins and David Gould (counter-tenors) in Stabile’s ‘Quaeramus cum pastoribus’)/Rory McCleery
rec. 2014, Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34145 [62:55]

Here, if it were ever needed, is triumphant proof that the best of ‘Christmas’ music, when it is good and is performed to the highest standards, quite transcends its occasioning season and rewards listening throughout the year. Even listened to during a Welsh midsummer – by turns windy, wet and sunny – the music on this fine disc by the Marian Consort is ravishingly beautiful and full of quiet fervour.

Unlike many a Christmas disc, this one is built on serious scholarly – one might almost say didactic – foundations. It follows the fortunes (or some of them) of a lovely antiphonal motet (‘Quaeramus cum pastoribus’) by Jean Mouton (d.1522), which was written c. 1515 and became well-established in the repertoire of the Sistine Chapel Choir. Cristóbal de Morales, while he was a member of the papal choir from 1535-45, used Mouton’s motet as the basis for a mass of his own; other composers too, including Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562), also used Mouton’s motet in a similar manner. ‘Quaeramus cum pastoribus’ was also echoed in motets by Thomas Crequillon (c.1505-c.1557), Annibale Stabile (c.1535-1595) and Giovanni Croce (1557-1609). On this CD Rory McCleery and his Marian Consort perform Mouton’s motet and Morales’ mass as well as the ‘imitation’ motet by Stabile. The programme is completed by further motets by both Mouton and de Morales. The whole, quite apart from making enrichingly beautiful listening, is a miniature course of instruction in the practice of imitation, one of the fundamental tenets of Renaissance thought and teaching in all the arts.

In 1485 a Papal Bull promulgated by Sixtus IV fixed the size of the Sistine Chapel choir at 24 (six voices per part). The performances on this CD use one voice per part. They are, therefore, on a rather smaller scale than the performances Mouton’s motet or de Morales’ mass would have originally received in Rome. Then again, most of us listen to our CDs in rooms which are a good deal smaller – and indeed rather less well ‘decorated’! – than the Sistine Chapel. Being sung one voice per part pays rich dividends in terms of clarity, particularly valuable in music, such as Mouton’s, which is melodically strong.

This is the kind of recording of Renaissance polyphony which I would warmly commend even to people who say they aren’t much interested in such music. Some would certainly find themselves changing their minds if they listened patiently. If I have one minor quibble it is that the performers have chosen to do what many other choirs or directors do nowadays, to interleave the sections of Morales’ Mass with motets by other composers. Whatever the liturgical justification — real enough — for this practice, I find it mildly irritating in a context such as a CD when the listener’s reactions and judgements are likely to be primarily aesthetic rather than religious. In listening to a recording of work such as a Mass, my appreciation of its unity and architecture is generally heightened by hearing it ‘uninterrupted’ by other music. Many of us can programme our CD players to facilitate this kind of uninterrupted listening and the ‘complaint’ is, as I say, a minor one, which does little or nothing to detract from my pleasure in, and admiration for, this fine disc. In partial contradiction of my opening sentences, I shall certainly make a point of playing this disc when Christmas next comes around.

Glyn Pursglove

Previous review: John Quinn



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