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Sublime Refined Elegance à la trois,
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This review is from: La Quinta Essentia: Three Renaissance Masses (Audio CD)
The title of this album "Quinta Essentia" comes from the vocabulary of alchemy and refers to the "Fifth Element" which besides the four elements of fire, water, earth, and air is the element that is necessary to explain the diversity and multiplicity of life, the finest or best of any substance. The quintessence is an element that permeates all nature and is the constituent matter of the celestial bodies. In this album it most likely refers to the underlying sublimity through diversity of the sytles depicted.
This is a superb recording of " three major styles of Renaissance music", represented by Roman, Franco-Flemish, and English Late Gothic masses: Palestrina (Roman), Lassus (Franco-Flemish), and Thomas Ashewell "late English Gothic". Ashewell is an unknown English composer who has only 2 extant works. Byrd would have been the logical English Renaissance musicial choice in any other conductor's choices. So thanks to the conductor Van Nevel and this recording we are introduced to a beautiful unknown mass by Ashewell.
The style of Palestrina is "other-worldly" sublime, fragile, and transcendental - a result of symmetrical Classical counterpoint, tranquil and transparent linear part writing (voice leading). It is "other worldly", also because it makes no concessions to worldly elements in a pure "a cappella" style without the influence of any instrumental accompaniment. Its clarity is even filled with reminiscences of Gregorian Chant. The sound world of Palestrina is thus at first overwhelming for our modern ears because of this extreme purity of sound and technical craft, and in its striving to reach some unearthly paradise of musical thought. His music is a reflection of the Catholic Church's Counter- Reformation's moral and aesthetic doctrines working as he did in the shadow of the Vatican.
The style of Lassus is on the other hand very worldly and Baroque. It is filled with a magnificence of sound and exuberance. The sound world of his music is very sensually chromatic and splendid in the Baroque sense.
Ashewell is on the other hand English polyphony isolated from the currents of mainland Europe. Immediately preceding both Palestrina and Lassus, he was associated with Lincoln Cathedral, and later taught as cantor at Durham Cathedral. His style may be described as "flamboyant gothic" in its contrapuntal texture - very complex and minutely crafted. It is highly ornamented melodically - the opposite of the meditative counterpoint of Palestrina and the sensuality of Lassus.
This recording makes you actually "see" and hear these stylistic differences. The voice intonation of the singers is highly accurate with a very focused and dynamic sound, and the sonorities resonate deeply and fully in the ambience of an ideal performing space of the Museum of Water in the Convento dos Barbadinhos in Lisbon. Highly recommended.