Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Magnificent music by Philippe Rogier

Philippe Rogier: Music from the Missae Sex
Magnificat; Philip Cave, director
His Majexty's Sagbutts and Cornetts

This outstanding recording by Magnificat features a set of masses by Philippe Rogier. Missa Inclita stirps Jesse is a parody mass, one of the higher expressions of a composer’s skill back in the 1500’s.

The idea was to take an opening polyphonic theme from another composer’s work (in this case Jacobus Clemens’ motet Inclita stirps Jesse), and develop the material in a different way. The quoted (or “parodied”) material would begin each part of the mass.

Rogier was from France, but made his fortune in the court of the Spanish king, Philip II. These choral works are very clean, and spare. There’s no mere filling in harmonies here – each vocal line has a purpose. The Missa Inclita stirps Jesse is a fine example of high renaissance counterpoint, with the motifs expanding outward in ever more complex (yet transparent) patterns.

Rogier’s Missa Philippus Secoundus Rex Hispaniae takes its theme from the musical spelling of King Philip’s name. Despite its rather unmusical origin, Rogier makes it the foundation for a mass that’s an amazing compositional tour de force. His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts join Magnificat for this work, doubling the vocal lines and shading them in subtle ways. This is indeed music to pull one’s mind to higher things.

Cudos go to Maginifcat, directed by Philip Cave. This early music vocal ensemble has a wonderful blend. The ensemble can be a seamless blend of sound when it needs to be, and clearly articulating multiple lines of counterpoint at other times.

And added bonus is the release of this recording in SACD format. The album is beautifully recorded, but to get the full effect of the performing space (something never far from any renaissance composer’s mind), one should really hear it through the SACD multi-channel format. Rogier’s counterpoint depends on the special relationships between the voices as well as the harmonic – it’s the difference between a 2D and a 3D image.

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