Adding to their excellent recordings of Jacob Regnart for the Hyperion label, Cinquecento adds two significant Mass settings to their discography with this excellent recording. During the 1580s and ‘90s Regnart was employed at Archduke Ferdinand’s court at Innsbruck, later returning to the Habsburg court in Prague where he had been employed from around 1560. It was therefore after 1595 that Regnart started preparing these Mass settings for publication, though it was to be his widow Anna who would finally oversee the typesetting and printing of these works in Germany after Regnart’s death in 1599.
Both Christ ist erstanden or ‘Christ is risen’, and Freu dich, du werthe Christenheit, ‘Rejoice, O worthy Christendom’, have their melodic sources in German Easter hymns. The booklet notes tell us that more usual models for these kinds of settings would have been polyphonic in nature—motets or madrigals—and it seems Ragnart would have been looking for material that would be recognisable to congregations in order to 'convey in sound the joyful promise of salvation which Easter heralded', probably finding the tunes in a 1588 hymnal called the Catholisches Gesangbüchlein. None of this really says much about the exquisite polyphonic writing in these Masses. Each melody has its effect on the nature of each Mass, their contours informing the textures of each movement, sometimes fragmented and at other times stated whole, but squeezing every possibility from the material in ways that should still be an education for composers today.
There is a fine mixture of religious and secular in the remaining tracks. Maria fein, du klarer Schein is a motet-style setting of a song in praise of the Virgin Mary, Regnart using this extant melody in comparable ways to the Mass settings, taking it through the rage of his voices and expanding its expressive impact with gorgeous counterpoint. Rühmbt alle Werck deß Herren and Wann ich nur dich hab provide some contrast as re-textings of love songs that Regnart had written in the 1570s, these less complex settings providing material for domestic or educational use.
As with all of their recordings, Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal sound fabulous in this music. Recorded in a suitably resonant acoustic, the balance is perfect, and the unified sonority and superb intonation and articulation from this vocal quintet gives the impression of something grander than such compact forces might lead you to expect. This release joins their recording of Regnart’s Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae, and should be snapped up without delay.