From the Imperial Court: Music for the House of Hapsburg – stile antico – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807595, 71:07 *****:
Amorosi pensieri: Songs for the Habsburg Court – Cinquecento – Hyperion standard CD CDA68053, 60:31 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The nearly 1000-year rule of the Hapsburg dynasty in Europe—surely a record among monarchical institutions in the history of the world—also had, besides many obvious drawbacks—a league of radiant perks to the history of western music. Just a glance at the composers listed on stile antico’s new and brilliant surround sound recording proves the point. Virtually all of these men were artists of the highest caliber, and many resonate even today among non-ancient music lovers, an example of how important many of their works have shown to be in the general music-loving populace. Yet the main focus of the program covers around a 100-year period, particularly in the reign of the Emperor Maximilian and his immediate successors, through his grandson Charles V and his son Philip II. It is this last that the most “cheating” occurs on this program, bringing in the dubious, though hardly unwelcome, presence of Thomas Tallis, the connections tentatively made as Philip’s marriage to Mary Tudor might have meant that the motet Loquebanter variis linguis was performed jointly by the Spanish Capilla Flamenca and the Mary’s Chapel Royal. Who knows?
The pieces here are generally of a religious nature, with the exception of Ludwig Senfl’s paean to Maximilian, Quis dabit oculis, and the interesting (though textually overblown) Clemens non Papa tribute to Charles, Carole magnus eras. As usual—and it’s becoming a habit—stile antico’s performances are big, gorgeous, and highly moving renditions, while Harmonia mundi’s surround sound is superb in every way.
Josquin Desprez: Mille regretz
Heinrich Isaac: Virgo prudentissima
Pierre de la Rue: Absalon fili mi
Ludwig Senfl: Quis dabit oculis
Nicolas Gombert: Magnificat primi toni/Mille regretz
Cristobal de Morales: Jubilate Deo
Thomas Crecquillon: Andreas Christi famulus
Thomas Tallis: Loquebanter variis linguis
Jacob Clemens non Papa: Carole magnus eras
Alonso Lobo: Versa est in luctum
Almost as good, though standard CD, is the new Hyperion disc from the all-male vocal sextet Cinquecento, music originating from the “Habsburg” court—note the different spelling here—but this time focusing on secular music of the particular love and bitterness type. Few of these songs are what we might call “happy” at being in love, and a couple (“Die, wretched woman, die!” as an example) are downright distressing in their very realistic and non-sentimental depictions of love-wrought anguish. Three of the composers here, De Monte, Guyot, and Vaet, were all born in the immediate years after the death of Josquin, and Regnart several generations after that, so though this is a “Habsburg” excision, it is not one that spans a great number of years, nor are any of these composers household names as on the Harmonia mundi release. But the poetical topics make for a nice contrast, and Cinquecento’s smaller forces offer a more intimate and indeed affectionate rendition from sources we are generally not familiar with. Each of these four was also a cantor as well as a composer, and each was highly successful in his career, though quite varied stylistically. But hearing such differences in the last years of the Renaissance proves an entertaining and fascinating glimpse into the precursors of the late sixteenth-century French chanson writers.
Sound-wise this does not compete with the stile antico SACD, nor would you expect it to, though the standard CD sound is very good if a little close. The artistic execution is excellent.
DE MONTE, Philippe (1521-1603): Amorosi pensieri; Ombra son io; Con che soavita; Anima dolorosa; O dolci sguardi; Que me servent mes vers; Susanne un jour; Sortez regretz
GUYOT, Jean (c.1512-1588): En lieux d’esbatz m’assault melancolie; Je suis amoureux d’une; fille; Vous estes si doulce et benigne; L’arbre d’amour ung fruict d’amaritude; Vous perdez temps de me dire mal d’elle; Tel en mesdict qui pour soy la desire
VAET, Jacobus (c. 1529-1567): Amour leal; Sans vous ne puis; En l’ombre d’ung buissonet
REGNART, Jacob (c. 1540-1599): Ach weh der Zeit, die ich verzert; Ein Lieb nit mehr hat; Venus du und dein Kind; Du hast mich sollen nemen; Chi mi consolera; Amor, che debbo fare; Vola vola pensier; Alarm’, alarm’ o fidi miei pensieri