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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: 15 minutes 1 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)

Miserere mei, Deus
composer
5vv; probably composed for use during Holy Week in 1504 at the court of Ferrara
author of text
Psalm 50 (51)

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Josquin’s setting of the Psalm Miserere mei, Deus, associated with Ash Wednesday as well as other penitential occasions, is one of his most impressive creations. Its composition, in all probability, dates from Josquin’s year at the court of Ferrara, 1503–4. Since the entire Psalm is set but without doxology, thus corresponding to its liturgical use in Holy Week, its first performance may well have taken place at the beginning of April 1504. Due to the extreme length of the setting it might seem inappropriate for the liturgy, but the focus on Holy Week at Ferrara was well known, and in any case there are numerous spaces in the liturgy for extended meditations of the most austere kind, which this motet certainly is. At the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass, the altar and sanctuary are stripped of all their decorations, leaving only the bare framework of the table exposed. Josquin’s motet, most of all of this famously economical composer’s works, reflects this aesthetic perfectly. The tenor sings the same phrase of two pitches twenty-one times in total. During the first section it begins on high E and then works its way down an entire octave; in the second it reverses the process (but with note values half as long); and in the third it reverts to the longer notes, but descends only from E to A. Somewhat unusually, the statements of this ostinato theme are divided by varying numbers of rests: unlike in many pieces by Josquin, there is no rigid structure here, but form follows the exigencies of the text. It is this, together with the austerity of the surrounding counterpoint, with its heavy reliance on bare perfect intervals, and infrequent but telling use of homophony, that lends Josquin’s Miserere its effect, described by David Fallows as ‘devotional and even hypnotic’. It is hardly surprising, given the quality of this and many others of his compositions, that the Low Countries musical community felt itself bereft when, on Tuesday 27 August 1521, Josquin died. He was buried in front of the high altar of the church of Notre Dame, Condé-sur-Escaut, of which he had been Provost since 1504.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2012

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