Friday 3 November 2017

The Ear of the Huguenots

The Ear of the Huguenots - Huelgas Ensemble
The Ear of the Huguenots; Huelgas Ensemble, Paul van Nevel; Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 24 2017 Star rating: 3.0
Inspired by the Genevan Psalter, music written for the Huguenots in this fascinating historical exploration

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year has given rise to all manner of celebrations and commemorations. This disc from Paul van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi looks at things from a musical point of view. The Ear of the Huguenots presents us with a selection of music written for the Protestants, notably music setting texts from the Genevan Psalter.

Van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble give us music written for the Protestants by Claude Goudimel, Claude Le Jeune, Jacques Maudult, Paschal de l'Estocart, Jean Servin, Guillaume Costeley, as well as music written  in Rome by Giovanni Animuccia and Palestrina.

We start with a group of psalm settings, Claude Goudimel's Psalm LXVII is an elegant four part setting, for voices and instruments. As with Tallis' music for Edward VI, the clarity of diction and text is most important. The Genevan Psalter was produced in 1562 and was hugely influential. The Psalm settings on the disc are all from composers associated with the Huguenot circle in France. Claude Le Jeune's Psalm LXVII is similarly spare and elegant, just to voices and viol. Jacques Maudit's Psalm CI starts off surprisingly austere, before four part harmony warms it somewhat. There is something striking about the musical austerity of these pieces.

Goudimel was killed in the St Bartholemew's Day Massacre in Lyons, events which caused radical changes to the situation of Huguenots in France, and production of poetry and music based on the Genevan Psalter markedly declined after the massacres.

The next group moves to Rome, where in 1572 there were celebrations on receiving the 'good news' of the St Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris. So we have a pair of Laude, one anonymous and one by Giovanni Animuccia. Laude were sacred songs, and here we can see the links between the two sides as the Laude are much more direct without the polyphonic complexity which comes with Palestrina. Here represented by the 'Agnus Dei' of his Missa U re mi fa so la (we don't actually know what music was performed at the Rome celebration in 1572).

The final group is music from the later, post-massacre period, a mixture of sacred and secular music from composers within the Huguenot circles. Pascal de L'Estocart's Peccantem me quotidie is a four-part motet where the style moves much closer to the polyphony of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, whilst his chanson Vertu fache is more direct. Jean Servin's setting of Psalm XV is similarly more polyphonic. We finish with a pair of chansons by Claude Le Jeune.

Not all this music is great music, but Paul van Nevel and his ensemble really bring out the elegance of much of this music, the shapely sense of line underlying the necessity to keep the words clear. Part of the fascination of the disc is historical, providing an aural backdrop to written history.

Claude Goudimel (1514/20-1572) - Psalm LXVII
Claude Le Jeune (1528/30-1600) - Psalm LXVII
Jacques Mauduit (1557-1627) - Psalm CI
Anonymous - Chi vol seguir la guerra
Giovanni Animuccia (1520-1571) - Cia fu presa da te
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) - Agnus Dei from Missa Ut re mi fa sol la
Paschal de L'Estocart (1539 - after 1584) - Peccantem me quotidie
Paschal de L'Estocart- Le monde un jour contre Vertu fache
Jean Servin (1530-1596) - Psalm XV
Guillaume Costeley (1530 - 1606)
Claude Le Jeune - Cigne je suit de candeur
Claude Le Jeune - Povre coeur entourne
Huelgas Ensemble
Paul van Nevel
Recorded 23-24 Septemer 2016, Mansterum PoortAckere, Gent, Belgium
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