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"Candlemas in Renaissance Rome" is this CD's programmatic subtitle, but it soon becomes clear that the main purpose of the disc is to introduce us to an unfamiliar but truly splendid parody mass. This fascinating genre, the ultimate musical expression of honourable plagiarism in renaissance times, was a fantastic formula for fine music, and so it proves here in this magnificent example by Jacques Arcadelt based on a motet by Andreas de Silva, "Ave, Regina caelorum". As the CD title suggests, both of these composers worked in Rome - in common with Palestrina, the other master represented here - although Arcadelt originated from northern France or Flanders and de Silva, about whom very little is known, possibly from Spain.
Whatever their origins, on the evidence of this disc their music was of the very highest quality. Arcadelt, one of the many Franco-Flemish musicians who were in great demand throughout Europe, is probably known to early music fans mainly for his Italian madrigals - among them the exquisite "Il bianco e dolce cigno". But I must confess that this is the first time I've heard his sacred music, and it really is a stunning revelation! The first item is his motet "Pater noster" and it makes for a majestic opening to the programme, rich in melody and texture, beautifully performed here with fine-sounding lower voices and graceful instrumental embellishments. After another motet and a bit of Gregorian chant, Arcadelt's parody mass begins with a Kyrie both vigorous and graceful, sung with rich choral tone and exemplary style. This is perhaps a good point at which to mention de Silva's motet "Ave Regina caelorum" - for, although it is placed at the end of the disc, it does of course have a profound influence on the Arcadelt mass.Read more ›
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This is a welcome disc of music by Arcadelt, based around his mass Ave, Regina caelorum and interspersed with motets by Palestrina and de Silva. Arcadelt's music deserves a wider audience and it is good to see it being well sung and played here.
Although I like this disc, I can't quite share Stephen Midgeley's unbridled enthusiasm about it. Musica Contexta are very good; they are technically excellent with impeccable intonation and they sing very beautifully. However, I found a slight sense of detachment throughout the disc, possibly due to the decision to use of a small instrumental group for accompaniment. This may just be a personal response because the playing is very good, but I didn't quite get that sense of real engagement and spirituality from the music which the greatest recordings generate. I also think that, although good, Arcadelt's music isn't quite of the depth and greatness of a lot of other Renaissance composers - even some of the more obscure ones who have been so brilliantly recorded in recent years by ensembles like The Brabant Ensemble and Cinquecento. Whatever the reason, there is something about this performance which doesn't quite inspire me as it might.
Please don't let me put you off - this is a very good disc, beautifully recorded. My response is a personal one and if you have an interest in polyphony my advice is to read Stephen Midgeley's excellent review and then try the disc for yourself.
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