Thursday 28 November 2019

Music for Milan Cathedral

Music for Milan Cathedral - Siglo de Oro
Werrecore, Josquin, Gaffurius, Weerbeke; Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Maestro di cappella in Milan for nearly 30 years, yet a 16th century composer we have never heard of, until now.

This disc is devoted to motets by a composer that you may in all probability have never heard of, despite his being at the centre of Italian liturgical musical life for nearly years. Hermann Matthias Werrecore was appointed to the post of maestro di cappella of Milan Cathedral in 1522 and remained in place for nearly 30 years, during a turbulent time which included the Italian War of 1521-26 between Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, notably the Battle of Pavia when Francis was captured. A battle which Werrecore claims to have witnessed.

On Siglo de Oro's disc, Music for Milan Cathedral, from Delphian they perform six of Werrecore's surviving 30 motets, the first time that any of his sacred music has been recorded! Alongside these we get motets by his contemporaries Gaffurius, Josquin, Weerbeke, and Phinot.

The neglect of Werrecore is rather puzzling, because the music on this disc is very appealing and beautifully put together. The authority on Werrecore's music, Christine Getz, has suggested that a contemporary confusion between Werrecore and another composer, Matthias le Maistre, which persisted to the 19th century may have inhibited recognition.
Milan Cathedral, interior - (Photo © Pietro Madasch / Duomo di Milano)
Milan Cathedral, interior - (Photo © Pietro Madaschi / Duomo di Milano)
All the music on the disc is selected from part books associated with Milan Cathedral. So we have motets from Werrecore's own 1559 publication of 20 motets, plus motets from a book printed in 1543 by a printer associated with Milan, which includes three of Werrecore's motets (including one, Beati omnes qui timent Dominum which in other sources is ascribed to another composer). Also, featured in this latter book is music by Dominique Phinot, including his motet Homo quidam fecit, though Phinot is not known to have worked in Milan, but he did do so in Urbino.

Part books from the cathedral give rise to other motets on the disc, the Flemish born Gaspar van Weerbeke who arrived in Milan in 1471 and whose Ave Regina caelorum, mater is here, and Franchinus Gaffurius who was maestro di cappella from 1484 to 1522, and was responsible for compiling the part books. The composer with whom Werrecore was most often compared was his distinguished older contemporary Josquin and the disc includes two of his motets.

Some of Werrecore's motets are quite substantial, so that Popule meus, which was intended for the Good Friday liturgy of the Adoration of the Cross, lasts nearly 12 minutes, and his Ave maris stella lasts 12 minutes. His motet Proh dolor was written for the funeral of the condottiero Alfonso d'Avalos, who had played an important role at Pavia and became Governor of Milan and seems to have admired Werrecore's work. So the work gives us a fascinating musical link to Italy's turbulent history.

This is wonderful music, and we cannot at all understand why we have not heard it before. Werrecore handles polyphony beautifully, creating varied yet balanced textures. What also impresses is his handling of the large-scale architecture of the bigger motets, and it is of course fascinating to hear his music alongside that of his distinguished contemporaries and predecessors.

We know even less about what Werrecore's music sounded like in performance in Milan in the 16th century. Siglo de Oro use a group of 13 singers (reducing numbers for some) with female sopranos and a mixed line up of altos. They make a lovely even blended sound, very clear and beautifully smooth. It is a very English sound, think Tallis Scholars, though Patrick Allies has created a distinctive sound for the group and is anything but bland. The disc is imaginatively put together, and certainly deserves to give Werrecore the exposure he deserves.

Hermann Mattias Werrecore (c1500-after1574) - Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria
Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522) - O sacrum convivium
Hermann Mattias Werrecore- Popule meus
Josquin des Prez (c1450-1521) - Alma redemptoris mater/Ave regina caelorum
Hermann Mattias Werrecore - Proh dolor
Hermann Mattias Werrecore - Ave maris stella
Hermann Mattias Werrecore - Inclina Deus meus
Gaspar van Weerbeke (c1445-after 1516) - Ave regina caelorum, mater
Hermann Mattias Werrecore - Beati omnes qui timent Dominum
Dominique Phinot (c1510-c1556) - Homo quidam fecit
Josquin des Prez - Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria sea
Siglo de Oro
Patrick Allies (conductor)
Recorded on 22-24 April 2019, chapel of Merton College, Oxford
DELPHIAN DCD34224 1CD [66.28]
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