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Jacob OBRECHT (1457/8-1505)
Missa Grecorum [34.29]
Salve Regina a 6 [12.48]
Mater Patris/Sancta Dei genetriux [12.38]
Cuius sacrata viscera a 4 [1.39]
O beate Basili [8.45]
Agnus dei [3.52]
Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. 2017, All Saint’s Church, East Finchley, London
HYPERION CDA68216 [74.13]

Well I don’t know about you but over the years, I have found collecting discs of Obrecht quite a difficulty. I thought I was doing well by having the ‘Missa Maria Zart’, a huge work recorded by The Tallis Scholars (Gimell 032). Also the ‘Missa Caput’ recorded by the Oxford Camerata (Naxos 8.553210). The ‘Missa Sub Tuum Praesidium’ recorded by The Clerks’ Group (Gaudeamus GAU341). Also their recording of the ‘Missa Malheur de bat’ (Gaudeamus GAU 171). The ‘Missa de Sancto Donatiano’ recorded by Capella Pratensis, which I reviewed back in 2008 (Fineline Classical 72414). But then I checked again in Rob C. Wegman’s bible on Obrecht (‘Born for the Muses’ OUP 1994) only to discover various editors have been at work on no less than 31 Masses by Obrecht, which seems incredible bearing in mind the composer’s rather peripatetic work and lifestyle. And now we have this mass, originally published by Petrucci in 1503 but edited in 1985 by Thomas Noblitt which is the version used for this première recording. Stephen Rice, the director of the Brabant Ensemble, has edited most of the rest of the music.

The next thing to say is how pleasing it is that not only do we have four motets receiving their first recording and another Obrecht mass made available but also that the Brabant Ensemble has recorded it. They have now released, by my count, seventeen discs and I have waxed lyrical about this choir before and my comments remain positive even if the density of Obrecht’s polyphony sometimes really challenges them.

Rice often cites Wegman in his booklet essay but this mass however gets little notice in Wegman’s book. Its date is thought to be c.1490 a period which Wegman regards as announcing the composer’s ‘Mature Style’ and a period of his ‘full-bloom’. Wegman discusses other works from this time, like the ‘Missa De Sancto Johanne Baptista’ but no recording of it exists. So we must take what we have and try to grasp the complexities of mature Obrecht.

The Missa Grecorum is a vigorous, and I feel, a virtuoso work, highly inventive and at times complex. There are sections, especially in the Kyrie and Agnus when a more homophonic texture dominates but others, as for example the first half of the Creed when the polyphony is unrelenting and dense. The plainchant can be clearly heard mostly in the tenor but particularly in the last ‘Agnus’ where it is the bottom line. The ‘Grecorum’ nomenclature is puzzling but Rice, in his indispensable notes, says that it might “arise from the practice in the Vatican of reading the Epistle and Gospel in Greek at Eastertide since that mass quotes the Easter sequence ‘Victimae Pacali Laudes’”. Of especial note are the memorable repetitions of ‘Jesu Christe’ in the Gloria and the use, as in other places of a sudden jolt into a joyous triple rhythm. There are also some extremely unusual harmonies particularly as cadence points.

The five other pieces are the 6-voice Salve Regina also recorded by the Oxford Camerata. This is a wonderfully moving motet and the equal of the glorious Oxford performance; although it appears to be a little quicker the timings are almost identical, with Rice’s choir just, technically, having the edge.

The Agnus Dei is a mass fragment which Wegman recently identified as being by Obrecht on stylistic grounds and this makes much sense although one might speculate where the rest of the mass might be located.

O beate Basili is in four parts and is a rare text exhorting us to ask St. Basil to intercede with “the good Lord Jesus on behalf of our unworthiness’. There is beautifully rounded and captivating five part setting of the double texted Mater Patris/Sancta dei a motet pleading for the intercession of the Virgin. Finally the motet Cuius sacrata viscus is a perfect miniature but it seems to me that it must have been part of a longer work.

There is a deep spirituality about this music although it is not always expressed in the most obvious way but Wegman does comment (page 350) that it was written that Obrecht ‘was a pious person’. I need write very little further as I can recommend this glowingly recorded disc wholeheartedly. All texts are supplied and the presentation is colourful and eye catching as is always the case with the Brabant’s now quite extensive collection of early Renaissance recordings.

Gary Higginson



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