Tuesday 12 November 2019

From Darkness Into Light: Antoine Brumel's Lamentations recorded complete by Musica Secreta

From Darkness Into Light - Musica Secreta - Obsidian
Antoine Brumel Lamentations of Jeremiah, Josquin, Moro, Compere; Musica Secreta; Obsidian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A major discovery, Brumel's Lamentations recorded complete for the first time, alongside music for a Florentine Convent, on this magical disc from Musical Secreta

Musica Secreta, directed by Deborah Roberts & Laurie Stras, continues its exploration of Italian Renaissance sacred music particularly associated with religious communities with this latest disc on Obsidian, From Darkness Into Light which combines Antoine Brumel's Lamentationes Hieremie Propheta, in feria sexta Parasceve, recorded complete for the first time, alongside music from a manuscript copied in the 16th century for a Florentine nunnery, largely anonymous but with motets by Josqiun, Antonio Moro and Loyset Compere.

The second half of the disc comes from the Biffoli-Sostegni manuscript which was copied in Florence in 1560 and which Laurie Stras (who did the research on which this disc is based) postulates comes from either the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri or the convent of San Jacopo, and the manuscript documents the convent's entire liturgical year. It has not had much expose partly because the majority of the works are uncredited, though it is a substantial and elaborate manuscript. It was copied by one Antonius Morus (Antonio Moro), and it turns out that he copied another manuscript the previous year, now known the initials on the front page, P.M. and Stras examined this whilst in Florence.

Musica Secreta
Musica Secreta
P.M. contains Antoine Brumel's Lamentations of Jeremiah alongside other uncredited works. What Stras found, by accident, was that a substantial chunk of the 'uncredited' works were, in fact, further verses of Brumel's Lamentations so what is recorded on this disc for the first time is Brumel's setting of the Lamentations from the Good Friday lessons, with verses which correspond to those in a Franciscan breviary published in Venice in 1478. (You can read more at the Musica Secreta website).

Stras does not think the P.M. manuscript comes from a convent or monastery, but from a lay brotherhood, and she suggests it may have belonged to the flagellant confraternity, the Buca di San Paolo.

So for the Brumel, what we have is over 40 minutes of complex, delicate polyphony sung by four upper voices, nine women plus organ and viol. Brumel's music does have a clear dramatic shape, he includes all the musical material for the work in the first section and then dramatically structures the text by repeating musical refrains. But this is not innately dramatic music, that is not the point. Brumel does not wring the last ultimate of chromatic intensity out of moments the way Gesualdo would do, instead he creates something which is almost contemplative.

The sound-world is quite distinctive, with its use of four high voices (the total span of the music is around two octaves), and the results have an almost aetherial quality, at first delicate and intricate but you come to realise that there is a strength to it to. This was probably not liturgical music so much as music intended to instruct, and to induce thought and contemplation about the text being declaimed. The sound-world from Musica Secreta is beautifully crafted and balanced, with a fine feel for the shape of the polyphony and a lovely transparency of sound. Just occasionally you are aware of individual voices, but overall the result is a fine, characterful ensemble.

The accompanying works, which would have been sung by the nuns in Florence, seem to occupy a remarkably similar sound-world despite the differences in origin of the music. All are finely realised, and as a programme the results are completely mesmerising. Once your ears have become familiar with the sound-world, you start to recognise differences and felicitous details.

This is a further important window into conventual music from Musica Secreta, bringing a pair of relatively forgotten manuscripts to life. There are probably many more riches to be found, and the group is to be complimented both on their enterprising scholarship, and the resulting disc with performances which really do glow from within.

Antoine Brumel (c. 1460 – 1512 or 1513) - Lamentationes Hieremia Propheta, in feria Sexta Parasceve
Anonymous - Ave Maris Stella
Josquin des Prez - Recordare virgo Mater
Antonio Moro - Sancta Maria succurre miseris
Anon - Jesus autem cum ieiunasset
Anon - Multiplicati sunt qui tribulant me
Loyset Compere - Parnymphus salutat virginem
Anon - Verbum caro factum est
Anon - Salve Regina
Musica Secreta (Victoria Couper, Sally Dunkley, Yvonne Eddy, Hanna Ely, Katharine Hawnt, Kim Porter, Deborah Roberts, Laurie Strass, Caroline Trevor)
Claire Williams (organ)
Alison Kinder (viol)
Recorded at St Michael the Archangel, Southampton, 6-8 May 2019
OBSIDIAN CD719 1CD [73.05]
Support Planet Hugill when buying this from Amazon.

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