Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
Before saying anything about the music on this disc, which is somewhat specialised, I want to sing the praises of the chamber choir Contrapunctus. As was said in Gramophone magazine in 2015, they give us "the intimacy of The Cardinall's Musick, the rich glowing tone of The Sixteen and the textual drama of Stile Antico." In other words, they are good. Very good. The music offered here is rooted in the work of Josquin Deprez (c. 1450- c. 1521) which became very popular in the 16th century. Large quantities of his music were published in cathedral music books and instrumental anthologies which inspired three of the greatest Spanish composers of this age, Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611), Francisco Guerrero (1527 / 8-1599) and Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500-1553). The Musical Director of Contrapunctus is Owen Rees, an internationally recognised scholar of Renaissance music, particularly from the Iberian Peninsula. His helpful booklet notes tell us about a musical technique employed by Josquin in a number of his works, namely "ostinato". This is the periodic repetition throughout a piece of a motto in one voice part, serving both to bind the work together and to anchor it to a central musical and textural theme. So in "Jubilate Deo omnis terra" ("Rejoice in the Lord, all you lands") the opening piece by Morales, written to celebrate a truce between Charles V of Spain and Francis I of France brokered by Pope Paul III in 1538, five of the six voices salute the three participants while the sixth voice is given a different text and musical material, repeating a six-note ostinato phrase, "gaudeamus" ("let us rejoice"). This ostinato is actually a fragment of plainchant "Guadeamus omnes in Domino" ("Let us rejoice in the Lord") which is track two of the collection. I sincerely hope that all this does not make the programme sound dry and dusty because it is not. The singing, a cappella throughout, is of the highest standard, and the content is very listenable, even more so if we take the trouble to read the liner notes that gives sufficient information to help anyone understand and appreciate what is going on. Even as background music this will appeal to listeners who enjoy chant and Renaissance polyphony and those ready to go deeper will find Owen Rees and Contrapunctus helpful and congenial guides.
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