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GRAMOPHONE (12/2014)
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Reviewer:   Fabrice Fitch


The precise date of Antoine Brumel’s death is not known but its 500th anniversary may well have fallen about the time The Brabant Ensemble made this recording last year. Its centrepiece is his Mass for the Blessed Virgin, which a slightly later theorist reported having been written in a spirit of friendly competition with Josquin. In this story Brumel came up short – but he was bound to do so, such was the later 16th century’s cult of his rival. In fact it is one of Brumel’s finest works, in which his tendency to note-spinning is kept in check (as it is in the rest of the music chosen for this recording). The Brabants negotiate it briskly, and though one might envisage a more lyrical, expansive approach (as has often been adopted for Josquin’s setting), their incisive reading communicates something of the essential difference between the two settings, redressing the balance in Brumel’s favour. (The only other available recording for Naxos is hereby superseded.)


The disc is completed with a selection of Brumel’s motets, among which particular mention goes to the expansive Christmas piece Nato canunt omnia, with its echoes of Johannes Regis in the previous generation. It receives a bright, lithe performance whose translucent tone nearly conceals impressive vocal dexterity. In marked contrast to it is the tranquil Beata es, Maria, which may incidentally have formed part of another musical competition (settings by Compere and Obrecht are very similar in design). The Brabants have never ventured this early before but on this showing I hope very much that they will do so again.

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