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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67614
Recording details: September 2006
Queen's College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Summerly
Engineered by Justin Lowe
Release date: September 2007
Total duration: 4 minutes 34 seconds

'It's one of very few discs of this repertoire I've been happy to play in its entirety, and then several times since. This is in part a tribute to Gombert … but also to The Brabant Ensemble and Stephen Rice … by encouraging an unusually individual and carefully balanced vocal response, he avoids the pitfalls of relentless consistency and arid elision … there is a welcome and (in this music) novel belief in the power of voices as voices … try the sopranos halfway through Hortus conclusus es for erotic Mariolatry at its most disconcertingly sensual. Arise, make haste, as they sing, and hear this music' (Gramophone)

'The Brabant Ensemble's exploration of the 'forgotten generation' of composers between Josquin and Palestrina is reviving an abundance of unwarrantedly neglected sacred polyphony. Judging by this splendid selection of motets, Gombert's neglect is particularly flagrant. In penitential pieces, such as Aspice Domine and Tribulatio et angustia, his lavish use of dissonance within a smooth-flowing yet intricately imitative style creates an atmosphere of almost unbearably intense and bitter anguish, whether contemplating a city laid waste or beseeching rescue from a foetid quagmire … these shapely and well-paced performances do full justice to Gombert's outstanding talent' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This attractive recording provised an excellent opportunity to wallow in his motets … the music is austere but beautiful, with plenty of anguished dissonances and false relations … the music is well-sung … the performers are evidently passionate about 16th-century Flemish music' (Early Music Review)

'This is impressively accomplished ensemble singing … Rice's own booklet notes provide fascinating insights into the music … it is this intelligent approach to the spirit of the text (there is a glorious moment in Hortus conclusus es when the soprano soars ethereally to the line 'arise, make haste my beloved'), coupled with outstanding tuning and balancing, which makes this such a distinguished group. The Brabant Ensemble are quickly establishing themselves as one of the more impressive English groups specializing in Renaissance music, and this, their fourth CD release, only increases their stature' (International Record Review)

'The sheer quality of his music. These 10 motets are notable for their richly glowing sonorities, their disciplined counterpoints, their intensity of expression and, most of all, their careful tailoring of music to text. There's the darkly erotic intensity of Hortus conclusus es, the angst-ridden, pentitential Tribulatio et angustia … the singing is meticulously balanced and blended, Stephen Rice shaping and pacing each work with exquisite judgement' (The Sunday Times)

'Aspice Domine, Ne reminiscaris, Domine and Tribulatio et angustia mine a rich seam of angst, and receive searing performances here … the singing is brightly supported, the texture crystalline' (Early Music)

'Virtually all of these works project an awe-inducing majesty and solemnity, unfolding over many minutes of nearly cadence-free waves of rich-textured polyphony. Pungent dissonances play an integral role in the overall structure, as do repeated-note fragments and brief melodic segments whose impact can be quite striking, especially when introduced in the treble register and then passed through the other voices. It would be impossible to name a highlight--the magnificent Tribulatio et angustia; the grand Aspice Domine; the profoundly moving Pater noster and Ave Maria--because all of these works and performances are exemplary, both as unique creations and as stylistically informed, modern realizations of some of the greatest, yet-to-be-fully-appreciated music of the 16th century. The 14-voice Brabant Ensemble, whose vibrant, perfectly-tuned sound often gives the impression of a larger group, knows the importance of phrasing, breath control, and long-lined dynamic modulation, all of which are essential to really fire up and fully illuminate these scores. The sound, from what proves to be the ideal acoustics of the chapel of The Queen's College, Oxford, is perfectly balanced to allow us to hear each vocal line clearly while enabling the ensemble to properly resonate. This is a recording that demands and rewards multiple hearings … absolutely essential listening!' (ClassicsToday.com)

'This music is stunning, and the performance here is clear and bright, with perfect balance across the voice parts and the sustained lines. Highly recommended' (GScene)

'Les moments à couper le souffle ne manquent pas dans la dernière réalisation du Brabant Ensemble. Les amateurs de polyphonie de la Renaissance se réjouiront de voir apparaître des joyaux tels que Hortus conclusus es, aux invraisemblables chaînes de dissonances, ou une version du Inviolata qui, pour évoquer lointainement un modèle de Josquin, ne se situe pas moins dans un registre d'élégiaque mélancolie où Gombert surpasse tous ses contemporains' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Hortus conclusus es
composer
SAATB
author of text
after Song of Songs 4: 12b; 2: 10b

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In terms of Gombert’s music, a slightly surprising difference between the penitential motets and the Marian ones is that the latter are on occasion significantly more dissonant, and in particular contain more suspension-type dissonance (this is aurally the most obvious kind of dissonance, as compared with passing notes, for instance). It would appear that setting texts of this nature brought an especially intensified musical style from Gombert. This is most true of Hortus conclusus es, where Marian devotion is combined with the eroticism of the Song of Songs. The majority of the motet’s text is taken directly from the Song of Songs (4: 12), but the focus is brought directly onto the Blessed Virgin by altering the first phrase (‘Hortus conclusus es, soror mea, sponsa, fons signatus’) to read ‘You are an enclosed garden, mother of God, a sealed well’. The image of virginity is obvious; less clear is the identity of the speaker when the remainder of the text reads ‘arise, make haste, my beloved, and come’ (Song of Songs 2: 10). However the text is to be read, the musical setting is extraordinary: for the phrase ‘fons signatus’ (‘a sealed well’), Gombert creates a sequential chain lasting fully ten bars, climaxing with the entry of four voices in rapid succession at the top of their range, on ‘surge, propera’ (‘arise, make haste’); the sequence is then reversed on ‘amica mea’ (‘my beloved’). In addition to the heavy incidence of dissonance, with many double and even triple suspensions, this unique piece of writing brings a particular intensity to this short motet.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2007

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