Music clearly fascinated the great Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516); his sketches and paintings are peppered with closely observed depictions of music-making and musical instruments. Bosch, a native of ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Duchy of Brabant, was a life-long brother of the city’s Brotherhood of Our Illustrious Lady, a large and prestigious organization for which sacred music was an essential and highly-valued part of its devotional life. Every Wednesday Bosch could gather with his Confraternity brothers in their opulent chapel in the church of St. John the Evangelist to celebrate a votive Mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin.
All gathered around a single music stand, the Cappella Pratensis sings from facsimiles of 15th-century manuscripts, adding plainchant between the movements of a Mass, using the pronunciation of Latin particular to the Low Countries in the 15th century–all in an effort to get as close as possible to the sound composers such as Josquin and Ockeghem intended. On this record, Rebecca Stewart and her singers bring their unique approach to Ockeghem's famously somber Missa Mi-mi–with extraordinary results. The Cappella doesn't have the robust sound or sense of momentum the Clerks' Group brings to this Mass; rather, their performance has a gentleness and an extraordinary stillness about it that feel genuinely devout.
The Missa Ave Maris Stella, with its lyrically reverential mood and long duo and trio passages, is among Josquin Desprez's most popular masses, and the listener can choose from among recordings by top Renaissance a cappella vocal groups. This one by the Netherlands ensemble Cappella Pratensis presents itself as hyperauthentic. Backed by a booklet essay from Josquin specialist Jennifer Bloxam, the group purports to re-create the practices, discourse, and atmosphere that would have attended a performance of the mass in the papal chapel around the year 1500.
The composers known collectively as the Fiamminghi made their mark in Europe in general and in Italy and in France in particular during the 15th century. Their talent and skill gained them the most important positions in the great musical establishments of the time. This collection is devoted to the leading composers of the 15th century, from those of the first generation (Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Arnold de Lantins and Johannes Brassart) through Johannes Ockeghem, the great master of polyphonic technique, to Josquin Desprez and Pierre de La Rue, two musicians taught by Ockeghem who laid the foundations of the Ars Perfecta during the Renaissance. Also included is Jacob Obrecht, the only composer of this school whose career was based essentially in his native Flanders. Every genre of both sacred as well as secular music of the time is represented here.
Frank Zappa gave the vocal group the Persuasions their first chance by signing them to his record label, Straight, in 1969. In 2000, the six-piece a cappella formation recorded a heartfelt tribute to the composer by recording doo wop renditions of a cross section of his songs. Some choices were inevitable, like "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing," which the group had already performed on the project Zappa's Universe, and the already doo woppy "Any Way the Wind Blows" and "Love of My Life." But by adding obscure numbers like "Electric Aunt Jemima" and "Harder Than Your Husband," the Persuasions clearly intended to surprise the fans – and it works.
Ondine continues its long-term collaboration with Einojuhani Rautavaara with the world première recording of his Missa a cappella. Einojuhani Rautavaara - a self-described "mysthic" - has written a considerable amount of sacred music, including works in the Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox traditions. His Missa a cappella is one of his most significant recent works, and is here recorded alongside extracts of the Vigilia - his most extensive sacred choral work - his Missa duodecanonica, and a number of smaller sacred choral works.
One can easily appreciate this early William Christie recording with Capella Coloniensis, a group originally formed in 1954 (!) to perform baroque works in historically informed performances. Christie masters this orchestra well, and the playing is impeccable. The casting is excellent, including some of the great singers of the time: Emma Kirkby, in her prime, Agnes Mellon, Dominique Visse and David Cordier, among others. There is even a male soprano, Randall K. Wong, a rare type of singer indeed.