Out of the Shadows

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Compare and contrast: The Marian Consort's Cadogan Hall Prom paired Josquin with later composers writing in homage.

Josquin des Prez, Sethus Calvisius, Adrian Willaert, Vincente Lusitano; The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery; BBC Proms at Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 August 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Three of Josquin's celebrated Marian motets paired with works by later composers written in emulation

The second of the BBC Proms at Cadogan Hall on 9 August 2021 featured The Marian Consort, director Rory McCleery, in a programme which combined Marian motets by Josquin des Prez with motets written in emulation and admiration by later Renaissance composers, Sethus Calvisius, Adrian Willaert and Vincente Lusitano. The Prom was given twice and we caught the second performance at 6pm.

We know the basic outlines of Josquin's life and work (born in the Low Countries around 1450, died 1521) but much of the detail is either lost or obscured by subsequent mythmaking. However, his music had an enormous reptutation and influence both during his lifetime and later. The concert included three of Josquin's most celebrated motets, Praeter rerum seriem, Benedicta es caelorum Regina and Inviolata, integra casta es, substantial, large-scale pieces which inspired countless other composers to write works both in emulation and homage. The fascinating thing about the programme was being able to hear the Josquin originals alongside works which filtered his music through later styles.

We began with the six-part motet Praeter rerum seriem with The Marian Consort fielding a rather larger group than usual with twelve singers. Josquin begins the piece in the lower three voices, the result was low, dark and intense with a strong feeling of mystery though things relaxed as the upper voices appeared. There was a sense of constant movement, as different voices moved in and out of focus, with lines beautifully sung. I could imagine a more upfront performance, but we had a fine sense of the work's strong architectural foundation.

Sethus Calvisius (1556-1615) was one of JS Bach's predecessors as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. His motet Praeter rereum seriem was also six-voiced and preserved many of the musical details of the Josquin. The Marian Consort performed it with just six singers. The opening still dark and intense, then opening up and presenting us with Josquin through a more modern lense.

Next came Josquin's six-voice Benedicta es, caelorium Regina again sung by 12 singers. Whilst not quite a sunny work, it felt more open than Praeter rerum seriem, yet still with that feel of flowing, forward motion. Josquin's use of canon in the work is notable, though as with many such great composers the sophisticated construction is masked by the music's sheer beauty. Adrian Willaert (c1490-1562) became maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, Venice, an important representative of the generation of composers that transported the Franco-Flemish style to Italy. His Benedicta es, caelorum Regina uses an extra voice (performed here with just seven singers) adding to the number of canons in the music! The motet had a richer, more Palestrina-like feel to it, and rather than rhythmic impulse there was a sense of slow unfolding with the complex interweaving of parts.

Josquin's five-voice motet Inviolata, integra et casta es was sung by ten voices, and the work slowly built up towards some gorgeous textures, There was a real warm glow to the performance with great poise. It was followed by Inviolata, integra et casta es by the Portuguese composer and theorist Vincente Lusitano (died after 1561). A single volume of his published motets survived and as he is described as mestizo in early sources it seems that he was the first known mixed-race composer to have work published. His music has only recently started to be explored. His Inviolata expands Josquin's five voices to eight (sung one to a part here). The music had the same warm glow as the Josquin but a rather richer more complex texture, with a long, mesmerising feel to the piece. Slow to get going, but developing real interest and I kept imagining what these complexities would sound like in a warmly resonant acoustic.

We were treated to an encore, Hieronymus Vinders’ O mors inevitabilis, a lament on the death of Josquin.

The lunchtime performance is available on BBC Sounds.





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