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Hyperion Records

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The Dead Christ (c1480-1490) by Andrea Mantegna (c1431-1506)
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan / Alinari / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67959
Recording details: August 2010
Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria
Produced by Colin Mason
Engineered by Markus Wallner
Release date: August 2012
Total duration: 31 minutes 32 seconds

'Not only do the performances here range from genuine tenderness … to majestic splendour, but the balance is perfect and the melodic lines are absolutely clear, so that every detail of Richafort's remarkable contrapuntal writing can be heard … the other works on the disc are given similarly wonderful performances … Cinquecento's imploring rendition of the masterpiece that is Miserere mei, Deus is surely perfect in the way it balances a profound understanding, and projection, of its intricate counterpoint with its vast melodic sweep … if I could nominate this recording as 'Outstanding' twice over, I would do, for I have run out of superlatives. It is, quite simply, sublime' (International Record Review)

'Cinquecento's sound has a magic of its own' (Gramophone)

'Cinquecento give a more finely blended and balanced performance than I have yet heard from them, with spacious legato lines, breadth of vision and appreciation of the architecture and majestic solemnity of Richafort's 6-part polyphony, framed by gorgeous works by Josquin, his probable master. Vividly sung and recorded' (Choir & Organ)

'Musically inspired by Josquin, this is a majestic, expansive requiem … the shades of mourning are illuminated by moments of light and serenity—glimpses of a sublime hereafter. Cinquecento captures the work's meditative quality to profound effect, the all-male vocal ensemble creating an aptly plangent sonority and a tone of high seriousness … the group can also produce all the opulence and bloom of a much larger ensemble. Throughout, the singing is exquisitely controlled: arching polyphonic lines are beautifully shaped, textural contrasts subtly enhanced, never over-dramatised, and the voices—silken and effortless—seem to be suspended in amber' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Stephen Rice’s authoritative booklet notes are a valuable resource when it comes to placing the music in its historical context and delving further into the complexities of its creation, but the expressive warmth and sonority of Cinquecento’s voices, superbly recorded, are the source to which you will want to return for more and more. Superbly unified, the dynamic shading which brings forth leading voice lines and gently points to significant harmonic shifts are done so naturally that the music seems to enter your soul through some kind of osmosis rather than something so banal as mere listening' (MusicWeb International)

Missa pro defunctis 'Requiem'
composer
6vv; variously attributed to Josquin
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Missa pro defunctis is attributed to Josquin as well as Richafort, though as with other conflicting attributions, stylistic as well as source criteria point unequivocally to Richafort. This Missa pro defunctis setting, in six parts and running over half an hour in performance, is one of the most extended of the many Requiem Masses of this period. As is standard for the genre, the piece combines elements of the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass (being limited to specific occasions, Mass Propers were rarely set polyphonically at this time, but those for a Mass for the Dead would be required sufficiently often to merit the compositional effort involved). As well as the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei of the Ordinary, Richafort sets the Introit ‘Requiem aeternam’ (from which the genre of Requiem Masses derives its name); the Gradual ‘Si ambulem’; the Offertory ‘Domine Jesu Christe’; and the Communion ‘Lux aeterna’. (‘Si ambulem’ was replaced in the post-Reformation liturgy by ‘Requiem aeternam’, so that Missae pro defunctis of the later sixteenth century and onwards, such as Victoria’s settings, have the same text for Introit and Gradual, although the accompanying verses differ.)

The plainsong Requiem Introit is in mode 6, with final on F, and since every instance of the note B that it contains is flattened, the melody sounds effectively in F major. The association of major tonality with happiness and minor with sadness had not yet been formed in Richafort’s lifetime; more often the major modes were understood to sound harsh and the minor ones soft (indeed the Latin words durus and mollis were used to refer to B natural and B flat respectively, and persist in the German terms dur and moll for major and minor). The chant melody is lightly embellished in the highest voice, with three others making free counterpoint below it; meanwhile another plainsong melody, ‘Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis’, is sung as a cantus firmus. This plainsong is not part of the Requiem Mass, but an Invitatory (opening sentence) at Matins for the Dead. The ‘Circumdederunt’ chant is stated in canon at the upper fifth and at a distance of three breves: as will become apparent, this is a clear instance of homage to Josquin. The Introit verse ‘Te decet hymnus’ is as usual intoned to the Psalm tone, followed by a polyphonic but more chordal setting of the second half of the verse, in which the canonic cantus firmus is still present and heard perhaps more clearly. As is standard for Introits (not just in Requiems), the Psalm verse is followed by a reprise of the antiphon.

The cantus firmus is maintained in canon throughout the Kyrie, and also into the Gradual, despite the fact that the latter is based on plainsong with a different tonality (mode 2—similar to D minor with an unflattened sixth degree). Towards the end of the opening section of the Gradual, a new melodic element is added to the canonic cantus firmus voices: the phrase ‘c’est douleur non pareille’ (‘it is sorrow without equal’). This melodic strain is a direct quotation from Josquin, though in the original it refers not to death or bereavement but to lack of money, quoting the chanson Faulte d’argent. The chanson adopts the language of late-medieval love poetry, which habitually would speak of unrequited love in terms of overwrought emotion, with heavy use of words such as ‘las’ to punctuate the lover’s anguish. However, the ironic tone here, coupled with the derogatory reference to the venality of women, makes clear that the intent is parodic. Faulte d’argent would seem therefore a somewhat less than appropriate source of melodic material for a Mass-setting that presumably expresses genuine grief at the death of Josquin. Of course, the appropriation of profane material in sacred music of this period is well known, and its use in the most solemn of surroundings underlines the ease with which the Renaissance mind conflated the sacred and the secular—or, perhaps, saw religion permeating all aspects of secular life.

The remaining movements of Richafort’s Mass adopt similar strategies for presenting the borrowed material, reprising the Faulte d’argent quotation in the Offertory, but omitting it in the shorter movements towards the end of the work. In the Offertory the canon is reversed to sound at the lower fourth; elsewhere Richafort has varied the canonic delay, combining the ‘Circumdederunt’ melody with itself at two, three, and four breves’ distance (with suitable rhythmic flexibility, which, since a chant melody is inherently unrhythmicized, is quite permissible). When one bears in mind that for most of the work’s duration the chant of the Requiem Mass is paraphrased alongside this canonic structure, as well as the fact that a six-part texture is maintained for all except isolated verse sections, the scale of Richafort’s achievement becomes clear. For a composer of the ‘post-Josquin generation’, creating a memorial to his deceased colleague involved not only quoting his work and writing a varied canon of the kind he delighted in, based on a plainsong he had himself treated in canon, but also creating a structure worthy of the earlier composer, who (nowadays at least) is known above all for the beauty and clarity of his compositional designs.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2012

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