Tuesday 18 July 2017

Choir and brass: Lassus Requiem from Girton College & the Guildhall School

Lassus - Requiem a 5 - Toccata Classics
Orlande de Lassus Requiem a 5; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Guildhall, London, Gareth Wilson (director); Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 11 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The combination of choir and sackbuts brings out the sombre gravity of Lassus's seldom recorded five-part Requiem

Instruments played a larger role in the liturgical performance of Renaissance polyphony than we sometimes give credit. This disc on Toccata Classics presents Lassus' Requiem a 5, relatively rare on CD, in a performance with choir and sackbuts from the Choir of Girton College, Cambridge and Historic Brass of the Guildhall, conductor Gareth Wilson. The mass is performed interspersed with motets by Lassus, Tristis est anima mea, Peccata mea Domine, Fratres sobrii estote, Exaudi Domine vocem meam, Adoramus te Christe, and Levavi oculos meos.
In 2015 Girton College Chapel Choir joined forces with Guildhall School of Music and Drama students of Historic Brass for a performance of Lassus' Requiem a 5 for Candlemass. This eventually led to this recording, which was made in Canada in July 2016 during a Canadian tour undertaken by the two groups. The service of Candlemass imbues the choice of works for the rest of the programme, themes of penitence and death moving towards consolation and hope.
Lassus's Requiem a 5 was one of only two Requiem masses that he wrote for the court of the Dukes of Bavaria, re-inforcing the impression that requiem masses predominantly used plainchant. The Requiem a 5 seems to have been written for no specific occasion and may have simply arisen out of a desire to update the liturgy following the Council of Trent. Plainchant imbues the whole requiem, with Lassus quoting chant explicitly and sometimes simply weaving it into the textures.
The Requiem is a gentle, thoughtful work and the addition of sackbuts reinforces the music's sombre gravity. Gareth Wilson varies the scoring so that some passages, where Lassus quotes the plainchant, are sung by a single voice line with brass, whilst in others we hear voices alone though generally the brass support the voices, adding richness and depth to the texture. This is a big advantage given that with the relative youth of the singers the choir makes a relatively light, clear and soft-grained sound. There are a couple of moments in the unaccompanied music when I wondered about tuning, but overall this is a very fine achievement.

The selection of motets is shared between brass (Tristis est anima mea, Peccata mea Domine and Exaudi Domine vocen meam), and choir (Fratres sobrii estote, Adoramus te Christe), and they continue the thoughtful mood of the Requiem with just the final motet, Levavi oculos meos (performed by brass and choir) giving a promise of the Resurrection to come.

The organ, which also supports the choir in the Requiem, has two solos; Wilson's arrangement of John Bennett's Weep, O mine eyes and Lassus's showy Margot labourez les vignes based on a chanson by Jacques Arcadelt.

The CD booklet includes two comprehensive articles by Barbara Eichner and by Gareth Wilson. This is the first recording of Lassus's Requiem a 5 with instrumental accompaniment, and a number of motets are first recordings. This disc is a notable achievement, and the combination of choir and brass really lifts the choral music.

Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) - Requiem a 5
Orlande de Lassus - Tristis est anima mea,
Orlande de Lassus - Peccata mea Domine,
Orlande de Lassus - Fratres sobrii estote,
John Bennett, arr Wilson - Weep, o mine eyes
Orlande de Lassus - Exaudi Domine vocem meam,
Orlande de Lassus - Adoramus te Christe,
Orlande de Lassus - Margot Labourez les vignes
Orlande de Lassus - Levavi oculos meos.
The Choir of Girton College, Cambridge
Historic Brass of the Guildhall, London (Jeremy West, leader)
Lucy Morrell (organ)
Gareth Wilson (director)
Recorded 3-6 July 2016 at Grace Church on the Hill, Forest Hill, Toronto
Available from Amazon.

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