Tony Way
Limelight, Australia
February 2017

Measuring fame is always a difficult proposition. Pierre de la Rue (c. 1452-1518) died a wealthy man, much of his relatively prolific output has survived and he has earned a place in the history books as the most famous composer of his generation not to have worked in Italy. Yet, for all this, he is largely forgotten today. Thankfully, enthusiasts such as Stephen Rice and his Brabant Ensemble are doing a sterling job in plugging the gaps in his discography.

Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor, the earlier of two Masses on this disc is not the most promising place to start, however. While there are some variations in texture and rhythm, it is a rather plain four-part setting. Despite an empathetic approach to text by the singers, the music itself comes across as rather academic. (Perhaps it would have helped to hear the song on which it is based first.) The later Missa Inviolata is a much more interesting and accomplished affair with flashes of rhythmic brilliance and interesting text setting, still within the confines of four parts.

Recalling the style of Josquin, Salve Regina VI effectively varies combinations of voices to make the final four-part section of the motet a moving tribute to the Virgin Mary. The best is saved for last. In the Magnificat sexti toni, De la Rue skilfully deploys an array of techniques to produce a vibrant, engaging setting of the words in which the singers shine.

Limelight, Australia