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Fanfare Magazine: 39:2 (11-12/2015) 
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Reviewer: J. F. Weber

Orlandus Lassus (c. 1530–1594) is more renowned for his hundreds of motets than for his 60 or more Masses, less than half of them ever recorded. Here, as frequently happens, we have examples of both. Missa super Dixit Joseph is based on the composer’s own motet, which precedes the Mass on this program. The text is from Genesis, telling of Joseph’s encounter with his 11 brothers in the time of famine. (The encounter was in Egypt at the distribution of grain, not back home with Jacob as the notes have it.) When it was recorded just two years ago (as this is written), it was a valuable replacement for Miroslav Venhoda’s c. 1970 LP recording. But as we just saw (Fanfare 38:5), Paolo Da Col followed less than a year later with his new version, using a vocal ensemble twice as large as the seven voices of Cinquecento. Without denigrating the fine biographical series of which the recent recording is a part, I prefer this version of the Mass without reservation.

The all-male vocal ensemble of six voices (with a guest tenor added this time) has devoted itself to the mid-16th-century with Josquin des Prez and Lassus as the bookends so far. Like the Brabant Ensemble, a larger group directed by Stephen Rice that specializes in the same era, they have unearthed a large variety of unfamiliar music. These motets, like the Mass, are not entirely unknown. They range from four motets that I have not found in a cursory search of record catalogs to Timor et tremor, recorded over half a dozen times; the other five have turned up just once or twice. So often Lassus is recorded with instrumental accompaniment, based on the apparent practice of the Munich court, so it is a pleasure to hear these light, pure voices unencumbered. The subtlety of their dynamics caresses the ear, and the elegant blend of voices is typical of the best such groups. They can also produce the requisite power to conclude the Gloria and the Credo.

The texts of the motets are drawn (or adapted) from Psalms and other Old Testament books as well as two liturgical texts (“Deus, qui sedes super thronum” and “Deus, canticum novum”). All are set for five or six voices except the four-voice Fallax gratia. The notes go into detail on the voicing of each work and its publication history. Hearing the way this entrancing group illuminates the more familiar Lassus and the less familiar composers (Regnart, 31:3; Vaet, 32:6; and Schoendorff, 35:2) that it has embraced, one can only be grateful that their level of achievement has been so consistently high. This disc ranks with the most desirable Lassus collections ever issued.


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