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Hyperion Records

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Virgin and Mary Magdalen at the foot of the Cross, detail from the Isenheim Altarpiece (c1510/15) by Matthias Grünewald (c1480-1528)
Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar, France / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67848
Recording details: March 2010
Merton College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Antony Pitts
Engineered by Justin Lowe
Release date: January 2011
Total duration: 9 minutes 21 seconds

'The setting of Mass for the Dead understandably gets top billing, for despite its modest scale and simplicity, it is an affecting piece, as its opening movements signally testify. The Brabant Ensemble sing this with admirable clarity, assisted by a very transparent acoustic and recorded sound image' (Gramophone)

'This is the second recording by The Brabant Ensemble devoted to Clemens … together they go some way to convincing us that he was one of the better composers of the 16th century … here we get good tuning and chordal singing that glows from within' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The disc admirably addresses a gap in the market with highly expressive performances of a beautiful requiem and a series of exquisitely crafted motets, which illustrate powerfully Clemens' great gift for both melody and harmonic adventurousness and intensity of expression' (Early Music Review)

'Sympathetically recorded and with excellent booklet notes by Rice, this is another fine release by an ensemble that could be seen as stemming from the same tradition as The Tallis Scholars, i.e a chamber choir bringing before the public little-known repertoire, the worth of which it passionately believes in. It does it every bit as well, too' (International Record Review)

De profundis
composer
5vv; Novum et insigne opus musicum (Nuremberg: Berg & Neuber, 1558). RISM 1558/4
author of text
Psalm 129 (130)

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In his motet output Clemens sometimes adopts formal strategies that seem independent of text expression. In the large tripartite motet De profundis, which sets Psalm 130, for instance, the first section ends with an extended downward sequence at ‘Domine, quis sustinebit?’ (‘Lord, who could bear it?’). The texture is full at this point, with the lowest two of the five voices moving steadily in minims and in parallel thirds, while the soprano and one of the altos adopt a dactylic rhythm (semibreve–minim–minim), again mostly in parallel motion. Meanwhile the quinta pars or second alto is far more rhythmically active, syncopating with semiminims and minims against the prevailing tactus. No voice straightforwardly underlays the text (and the sixteenth-century sources are unhelpful in their underlay indications), reinforcing the impression that this passage was conceived as a sonic unit rather than specifically with the expression of these words in mind. This is underlined when a reworked version of the same sequence reappears at the end of the final section, but this time in triple rhythm, so that the four beats of a sequential unit in the first statement make up one-and-one-third breves rather than one breve, and the accentual pattern is ingeniously displaced.

If such quasi-instrumental passages suggest a composer most closely attuned to sonority, elsewhere in De profundis Clemens refutes any suggestion that he might be oblivious of textual concerns. Earlier in the third section, the word ‘misericordia’ (‘mercy’) is treated homophonically and with perfect Humanist word-stress; and towards the beginning of the piece ‘Si iniquitates’ (‘If [you should observe] transgressions’) is not only sung homophonically but repeated at a higher pitch for increased emotional effect. De profundis as a whole is one of Clemens’s most impressive achievements, running for nearly ten minutes as a freestanding musical structure.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2010

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