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Notes 63.2 (2006) 417-422

Briefly Noted
Reviewed by
Rick Anderson
Pierre de La Rue. Requiem. Antoine Brumel. Requiem. The Clerks' Group/Edward Wickham. Gaudeamus CD GAU 352, 2005.
Pierre de La Rue. Incessament. Ensemble Amarcord. Raumklang RK ap 10105, 2005.

Two recent releases shine a warm light on the work of Pierre de La Rue, one of the greatest of the fifteenth-century Franco-Flemish polyphonic masters. The first brings together La Rue's strange and transcendently beautiful Requiem Mass, his only setting of the Office of the Dead and one of the earliest polyphonic Requiem settings currently known. The composer made extensive use of the lower registers for this piece, keeping the bass voices deep in the basement throughout much of its length, and keeping the high voices generally in a moderate range. The rich melodiousness of the lower parts creates a lovely juxtaposition to what are often quite simple but grippingly beautiful canonic passages in the upper voices. For this recording La Rue's Requiem was paired, insightfully, with a setting of the same liturgy by his French contemporary, Antoine Brumel (ca. 1460–ca. 1515). Brumel's composition is somewhat drier and more formalistic than La Rue's, incorporating plainchant in a more traditional way, but it is hardly less sumptuously beautiful. Best of all, this is the first recording of Brumel's Requiem Mass, one that will hopefully spur additional interest in this composer and his works. The Clerks' Group is a smallish ensemble—two altos, two tenors, three basses—but it is perhaps the single most accomplished and consistently impressive specialist ensemble currently recording the Franco-Flemish repertoire. The supremely sympathetic acoustic of St. Andrew's, West Wratting imparts a warm and burnished sound to the group that belies its small numbers. This disc is very highly recommended to all classical collections.

Another recent release of works by Pierre de La Rue, this one by the five-voice Ensemble Amarcord, puts a sharper focus [End Page 417] on one La Rue piece in particular: the chanson Incessament, which he used as the basis for a parody Mass he later wrote himself, and which was later adapted by an unidentified Lutheran composer to create the motet Sic deus delixit. That motet opens the program, followed by the Mass; the disc then closes with La Rue's original chanson. In this Mass setting, La Rue's celebrated penchant for advanced canon writing is particularly noticeable, and on this recording we again have a small ensemble whose sound is expanded and enriched by a particularly well-chosen recording space. However, the Ensemble Amarcord itself deserves full credit for its breathtakingly smooth blend and celestial sweetness of tone. As with the Brumel work on the disc previously discussed, this is a world-premiere recording of this lovely and important piece, and would therefore be an essential purchase even if the performance were less stellar than it is.

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier. La Veloutée: Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord. Les Buffardins. Accent ACC 24168, 2005.
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier. Sonatas for Two Bassoons and Continuo. Musica Franca. MSR Classics MS 1170, 2005.

Boismortier's opus 91, a set of six sonatas for transverse flute and harpsichord, was published with a dedication to the great flutist, Michel Blavet (1700–1768). While these pieces do not call for deep reserves of instrumental prowess, they are technically impressive and nicely showcase one of Boismortier's distinguishing characteristics: a marked tendency to treat all instrumental parts as equals. The sonatas themselves are essentially flute and harpsichord duets, while the preludes placed between them break up what could have been a texturally monotonous program by introducing a slower pace and the more stately tone of a viola da gamba, leaving out the harpsichord entirely. The result is a disc that nicely balances Boismortier's more florid, galant tendencies with equally elegant but darker and more introspective material. As always, Boismortier's melodic gift is a joy to witness, though one gets the feeling that, at this point, he was not exactly plumbing the full depth of...


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