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I have been a great admirer of The Brabant Ensemble for years now and some of their recordings, notably of Phinot Missa Si bona suscepimus and Moulu Moulu: Missa Alma Redemptoris (Missa Missus Est Gabriel Angelus/ Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater) are among my very favourites. Although I like this disc, I don't think it is really in the same league as their best.

The music itself is good but perhaps not as rewarding as some of the finest polyphony of the period. Nonetheless, it is well worth hearing and a really great performance could give it real depth and beauty; I don't think the Brabants quite manage that here. As other reviewers have noted, the balance of voices is very top-heavy which robs the music of a good deal of its texture, and this is exacerbated by the recording. It is echoey and distant so the rich, intimate sound of the choir is much diminished and they sound rather disembodied and detached. Also - and this may just be my ears - the normally impeccable intonation of the Brabants sounds slightly off in a couple of places to me. All of these things combine to mar the disc rather and they do diminish my enjoyment.

I don't want to be too harsh - there are moments of real clarity and beauty here, and I applaud the Steven Rice's continuing efforts to bring to light some of the more obscure but beautiful Renaissance repertoire. However, for me this isn't one of the Brabant Ensemble's best discs by any means and I can only give it a rather qualified recommendation.

(For a great recording of de Rore I would suggest The Tallis Scholars' fabulous disc of motets and the mass Praeter rerum seriem Rore - Missa Praeter rerum seriem; Motets, or their fine compilation Flemish Masters Flemish Masters which includes the mass.)
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on 16 January 2014
This is great music, and I hope we can look forward to many more de Rore recordings, of his religious music as well as the madrigals. Not for nothing was he much praised by Monteverdi. As for the recording, I have once more been seduced into buying this by the reviews and the repertoire.... while knowing that I am not too fond of the ensemble. Why doesn't Rice keep in check those trumpeting sopranos who seem to dominate the Brabant sound? It has been pointed out often enough one would think. For me this spoils a lot of the listening pleasure and makes me look forward to the quiet movements like the Agnus Dei when they finally give us some peace.... For a more balanced sound in a de Rore Mass, there is the great Huelgas ensemble disk, a classic that has recently become available again. Meanwhile, no more Brabant Ensemble for me.
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Cipriano de Rore's name is cemented in the music history books for his role in the development of the madrigal, but this disc presents some of his lesser known sacred music, a pair of masses based on French language chansons (one written by de Rore himself, the other being one of "the sixteenth century's greatest hits", "Doulce memoire" by Pierre Regnault) plus three motets, including the unusual and apparently unique "Fratres scitote", setting text normally spoken as part of the mass liturgy, though there is no evidence that it was sung in a liturgical context in place of the spoken text.

When compared against contemporaries such as Jacobus Clemens Non Papa, de Rore's music does not have the same level of richly textured counterpoint, the compositions edging more towards a more homophonic style, though the three motets perhaps display a little more complexity than the masses.

The Brabant Ensemble perform as ever with two voices per part (I presume, given the personnel listed, though some parts could employ three voices), the sound quality is a little bit on the reverberant and 'cavernous' side and there is my usual bugbear with all the Brabant's recordings of heavily hissing sibilants particularly when listening on headphones, though it's less of a problem listening on speakers. I wish they would get their recording quality sorted out. It doesn't have to be like this - there are plenty of other ensembles about with 2vpp whose recordings don't accentuate the sibilants in this way. (Either that or the ensemble's tuning with 2vpp is not as good as it could be, but would that be the case for such an experienced group after so many recordings? Or is director Rice actually getting his singers to heavily accentuate the sibilants?) As always there is a good set of notes on the pieces by director Stephen Rice, and full sung texts and translations.
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Cipriano de Rore was one of the many Franco-Flemish renaissance composers who achieved great success and fame beyond their native lands. In his case he was better known - both in his own time and in subsequent centuries - for his secular madrigals than for his sacred works; but, in common with other mainly secular near-contemporaries such as Janequin and Arcadelt, his sacred music is also beautiful and distinctive. This is amply demonstrated by this very fine disc from the Brabant Ensemble.

The composer's sacred style has a homophonic feel to it, generally led by the upper voices and artfully disguising the underlying polyphonic textures. The first work, Cipriano's paraphrase Mass on a well-known chanson, "Doulce mémoire", wonderfully captures the longing for past love which is the essence of the song's text and melody. At the same time the work is a highly effective and expressive setting of the Mass text, with many remarkable passages such as the extremely lively latter part of the Credo from "Et resurrexit", with its increasingly florid treatment of the chanson's melodic line. Altogether the Mass is a marvellous example of Franco-Flemish invention and ingenuity. The text of the chanson is given in the booklet, with translation, but why don't we get the three-minute model chanson on the disc? The song would have been known to all contemporary listeners to De Rore's Mass, who would thus readily have appreciated the beauty and ingenuity of the composer's use of the (to them) familiar melody. For us, however, listeners of today might well want to seek out a version of the song on some other CD - the ones I know of can be found in various renaissance secular collections such as Joyssance Vous Donneray,Canto a mi Caballero, or 'Fricassée parisienne' by the Ensemble Clément Janequin on Harmonia Mundi.

The second Mass on the CD, "Missa a note negre", is also a paraphrase on a secular model - this time on De Rore's own chanson "Tout ce qu'on peut en elle voir". Again, it provides lovely and distinctive melodic material, its treatment showing apparently endless ingenuity and imagination. Once again we are robbed of a performance of the model chanson, and in this case I cannot trace any recording of it elsewhere. But the Mass itself is a rich, impressive and substantial work, showing a remarkable variety of pace and texture; it also expresses brilliantly the mood of sweet pain of the song, whose text is given in the booklet: "Si je ne la vois, je me lamente / Quand je la vois, je me tourmente ...". Stephen Rice and his Brabant Ensemble make an excellent case for this very fine Mass, performing it - and indeed all the works on the disc - with profound, rapt conviction and in beautiful, pure-voiced sound.

The three motets, placed on the disc between the two Mass settings, turn out to be a further remarkable asset to this programme of Cipriano's music. "O altitudo divitiarum" is a stately, contemplative piece with more than a touch of the supreme poise of Josquin about it. The next motet, "Fratres: Scitote" on a poignant text central to the Christian faith, is simply glorious in both line and texture, with an especially lovely passage for the lower voices at the words "quod pro vobis tradetur"; this piece is an absolute knockout as far as I'm concerned. It's followed by "Illuxit nunc sacra negre", in which the performers perfectly capture the joy of the Nativity. This trio of works forms a beautifully chosen and contrasted group and, once again, makes a persuasive case for the greatness of the composer.

The recorded sound, in an Oxford church, is lovely, and I was entirely untroubled by excessive sibilant sounds as lamented by fellow reviewer E.L. Wisty in his otherwise excellent review. Stephen Rice's booklet notes are first-class, and all texts and translations are given. It's a bit of a swiz about those missing musical models, but I suppose the cover illustration, from a tapestry in the Musée de Cluny, does at least give us a hint of the courtly-love flavour of the absent but all-pervading chansons. Rice and his singers have been doing a brilliant job in introducing renaissance fans to the inexhaustible wonders of the Franco-Flemish school, and this disc is every bit as good as all their others so far.
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