This is a real discovery. Jacquet or Jachet of Mantua is almost unknown, though John Milson in an article in the ‘Oxford Companion to Music’ names him as one of the most important composers of church music in the generation before Lassus and Palestrina. Palestrina employed at least two of Jacquet’s motets as the basis for his own masses: Aspice Domine and Salvum me fac. He seems to have failed to gain due recognition because he was confused with his contemporary Jacquet de Berchem, to whom In illo tempore (track 9) has also been attributed.
To the best of my knowledge everything here is receiving its first recording. Certainly there are no other recordings dedicated wholly to Jacquet’s music in the current UK catalogue, although there was a Calliope recording of his Lamentations, performed by the eponymous Ensemble Jachet de Mantoue, in 2003. His 6-part Dixit Dominus and 4-part Lætatus sum and Nisi Dominus, all in collaboration with Adrian Willaert, feature on a very fine Ricercar recording of Willaert’s Vespers for the Virgin Mary (RIC325—review and DL Roundup September 2012/2).
His Dum vastos Adriæ fluctus appears on a CD mainly of Richafort’s Requiem (Tributes to Josquin Desprez, Signum SIGCD326). I missed this when it was released because I was reviewing the Harmonia Mundi reissue of the Richafort at about the same time and comparing it with the Hyperion recording. I’m sorry that I did because at first hearing it’s strongly competitive with those two other versions, but I hope to include a review of the 24-bit download from hyperion-records.co.uk in a future edition of Download News.
The 6-part Missa Surge Petre is a parody mass based on Jacquet’s own motet of that name, also in six parts, a performance of which opens the proceedings. There are five other such parody masses: if they are all as fine as this, I very much hope that someone, perhaps Hyperion, will give us more, though half of them have not yet been edited. In order for that to happen it would first be necessary for this recording to sell like hot cakes. If that sounds as if I’m plugging it, I am, though my interest in doing so is purely on altruistic and artistic grounds.
The motet and mass are particularly sumptuous works, perhaps because they both relate to Saint Peter, the patron saint of Mantua Cathedral where Jacquet was first a singer from around 1526, then maestro di cappella. The text of the motet is a conflation of passages from Acts—Peter’s escape from prison following an earthquake, the epistle for the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul—and Jesus’s words to him in the Gospels. The treatment is luxurious rather than dramatic: though by no means divorced from the meaning, like most settings before the reformation and counter-reformation, the music takes precedent over the words. Especially in the six-part settings on this recordings, it’s by no means easy to distinguish the words anyway.
Nor does Jacquet’s Passiontide motet O vos omnes attain the sheer power of Gesualdo’s setting of those words, but few works from this period can match the passion of Gesualdo. It is, however, as befits the occasion, a much sparer work than Missa Surge Petre, in four parts only, and it would certainly be effective as sung in Mantua Cathedral during the Reproaches on Good Friday.
The following In illo tempore also makes its effect economically. More economic still are the two works on texts connected with the Virgin Mary: Ave Maria and O pulcherrima inter mulieres, the latter taken from the Song of Songs where the poetic outpourings of two lovers have been interpreted as Jesus and his Church or Jesus and Mary. Both of these three-part works are sung by sopranos and altos only, two upper parts and one lower, with a restricted vocal range and sounding appropriately ethereal rather than sumptuous.
Another six-part work rounds off the programme but here again the style is quite different from both the sumptuousness of the Mass and the ethereal nature of the Marian texts. This text for Ash Wednesday asks God to forgive our sins and judge us not on merit but according to His mercy. The setting, though dense, is appropriately earthbound, wearing metaphoric sackcloth and ashes. Two decades before the time that Jacquet composed this work, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther had pinned his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, one of which asserts that the whole life of a Christian should be one of penitence. I’m sure that Luther would have approved of this motet, though the music does rise in line with the hopeful prayer of the last third of the text.
The performances are all that we have come to expect of The Brabant Ensemble and Stephen Rice. Inevitably in such elaborate unaccompanied music the tone slips occasionally but not so that you would notice—I didn’t, but a few listeners with absolute pitch may. That apart, only those who insist on all-male performances of music of this period will object. Again, though I would like to hear a male choir such as Christ Church Oxford—Nimbus, perhaps—or Westminster Cathedral record some of Jacquet’s music, I would also very much like to hear some more from this source.
With very good recording, especially as heard in the 24-bit version—at £12 only a little more expensive than the 16-bit download and CD—and notes of the usual Hyperion high quality, lovers of sixteenth-century polyphony need have no hesitation.