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Henri-Jacques de CROES (1705-1786)
Quam terribilia sunt judicia tua [13:09]
Cum mirabiliter [13:35]
Sonata in d, op. 4 No VI [8:45]
A facie Domini [14:42]
Confitemin Domino [13:48]
Bettina Pahn (soprano)
Julian Podger (tenor)
Peter Harvey (bass)
Cappela Brugensis
Collegium Instrumentale Brugense/Patrick Peire
Recording details not given
ETCETERA KTC1605 [63:58]

Look up the name Henri-Jacques de Croes online and you won’t find a great deal of detailed information. The booklet for this release tells us that he was baptised as the son of Henri de Croes and Anne Marguerite Hallandus on 19th September 1705 in Antwerp. He became the first violinist at the Church of St James in Antwerp in 1723, leaving in 1729 to go into service for princely courts in Germany, later settling in Brussels where he appears as the concertmaster of the court chapel of Charles of Lorraine in 1744, rising to become director and maître de chapelle of the chapel in 1746. de Croes died in Brussels on 16 August 1786.

Only six motets and a few masses have survived from what must have been a rich oeuvre of religious music. The motets on this recording take the shape of cantatas, with solo arias preceded by recitative or arioso sections, the whole being opened and concluded by choruses. Cum mirabiliter is for solo bass voice, strings and basso continuo, and ends with an Alleluja in which the solo voice seems to want to take on all of the vocal part of a chorus supported enthusiastically by the orchestra. The texts are taken from a variety of psalms and hymns, Pareick Peire’s notes telling us that de Croes apparently had a weak knowledge of Latin, judging by the amount of mistaken case endings and inconsistent spellings in the manuscripts, though today he might have been diagnosed with some measure of dyslexia.

Whatever de Croes’s degree of literacy, he was clearly a brilliant composer. Working in the southern region of the wider Netherlands, his influences came from France and Italy, and whiffs of Vivaldi certainly come through in the string writing. The music is a highly approachable sort of Bach-meets-Haydn: sophisticated without being overly complicated, appealingly expressive both melodically and in terms of harmony, and admirably clear in terms of word setting. Collegium Instrumentale Brugense has opted for basso continuo without harpsichord, so the sound is elegant and mellifluous, the rhythmic edge well enough defined in the larger ensemble sections.

The Sonata VI is the last of de Croes’s Op. 4, published by Leclerc in Paris. This strings-only piece breaks up the mainly vocal programme nicely, and gives us an opportunity to hear some of de Croes’s German influence in the Sturm und Drang of the closing Presto.

This CD appears to be the re-release of a title from 2006 on the Eufoda label that has passed pretty much entirely under the radar. Don’t be deceived by the pious nature of the early 16th century cover picture on this reboot, Henri-Jacques de Croes is actually more fun than he would appear. These motets have plenty of gutsy choral writing and colourful arias, sung with conventionally natural but thankfully not excessive vibrato. With excellent performances of fine but obscure music by all concerned and a very fine recording as the cherry on top, this is a very attractive and worthwhile release.

Dominy Clements



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