Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cinquecento: Phillippe De Monte: Miss Ultimi miei sospiri

Today I'm going to get around to doing something I had planned to do when I began to blog - review CDs! Here's to hoping, unlike all my other "regular" features on this blog, this one sticks!


It is a fact of musicological life here in North America that in music survey courses, the Renaissance is represented by a triumvirate of composers. For the Early Renaissance you get Dufay, in the middle finds Josquin, and one finishes the Renaissance with Palestrina, pace Monteverdi, who lived too long to stay a Renaissance composer.

Really though, in sheer popularity, Palestrina appears to have cornered the market on the whole Renaissance. People know of some of his late-Renaissance contemporaries, like Lassus, Byrd, and of course, everyone's favourite dissonance-loving wife-killing prince , but it's Palestrina who usually gets the most play.

Given the lock Palestrina has, it was a real pleasure to discover the work of his Vienna-based contemporary Philippe De Monte on a recent Hyperion CD by the Vienna-based Cinquecento.

Their third CD for Hyperion (my first encounter with them), Cinquecento is the house choir for St. Rochus in Vienna, which means you can listen to them singing live on a weekly basis, provided you don't mind sitting through a church service. (Not now though - it's summer break!)

I will refrain from giving you background on the CD, because the magic of the Internet and the kindness of Hyperion let me link to the CD's full liner notes.

The CD is a treat. Their vocal texture is wonderful, alternatively molten and granite, and it is hard not to think of the Hilliard Ensemble while listening to them. This is a blessing and a curse - they are wonderfully balanced and in tune, and although every opening unfolds sumptuously, I felt they often lacked drive towards the cadence that would have made some of this music thrilling to the end, something I have grown very accustomed to in listening to the Hilliard Ensemble over the years.

The Credo, for instance, just walks to its finish, despite the forward momentum right there in the music. However, you forget this quickly because the opening of the Sanctus which follows is so gossamery.

Indeed, this is a beautiful and delicate recording, one that bears repeated listening. I intend to pick up their earlier recordings, and I look forward to their exploration of more music from this era of the Hapsburg court- did those Viennese ever have to contend with mediocre music?

Ah Vienna...why must you be so far from Toronto?

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