Gombert: Missa Tempore paschali & other sacred music
CDH55323 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Gombert’s cycle of Magnificat settings is preserved in a unique manuscript source now in Madrid. The date of composition is unknown, though it may be that these were indeed the ‘swan-songs’ referred to by Hieronymus Cardanus. The fluidity of the polyphony certainly suggests a date from the composer’s maturity. The Magnificat octavi toni is not the eighth of the cycle but the third, titled Magnificat tertii et octavi toni. Since the third and eighth Psalm tones have similar intonations (ut-re-fa), Gombert has composed the work in such a way that the polyphonic (even-numbered) verses can alternate with the plainchant of either tone. However, in the event that tone three is required the polyphonic verses are slightly truncated in order that the endings accord with the mode (finishing on A), while a performance according to tone eight uses all the polyphony (finishing on G). (Clemens non Papa adopted a similar practice, except that his tone eight is the truncated form, tone three requiring the full polyphonic verse.) Uniquely among Gombert’s cycle, the polyphony of Magnificat tertii et octavi toni is organized so that each verse gains an additional voice, the first polyphonic verse, ‘Et exsultavit’, being in three parts, the last, ‘Sicut erat’, in eight, including a canon four in two.
from notes by John O'Donnell © 1997