Thursday 24 November 2016

An exceptionally fine disc in every way from Ensemble Gilles Binchois, setting Heinrich Isaac’s Missa Virgo Prudentissima within an imagined Florentine celebration on a new release from Evidence Classics

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the composer, Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517). Though born in Flanders he travelled south, through Innsbruck, to Italy where he served the Medicis in Florence. He sang in the cathedral and is thought to have taught the children of Lorenzo de' Medici ‘Lorenzo the Magnificent’ (1449-1492). Later he worked in Vienna, Torgau and Konstanz, becoming court composer to the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian 1 (1459-1519).

From 1514 he was in Florence where he held both a Medici pension and a diplomatic post under Maximilian. His compositions include a large number of Mass settings as well as motets and secular songs.

Evidence Classics have just released a new recording with Ensemble Gilles Binchois directed by Dominique Vellard of Heinrich Isaac’s six voice Missa Virgo Prudentissima.  


The programme of this recording imagines a Florentine celebration, possibly during a visit of Pope Leo X, with Isaac’s Mass Ordinary integrated with plainchant used at the Florentine cathedral where Isaac worked as a singer. At either end there is a motet from Isaac’s posthumous collection of Mass Propers, the Choralis constantinus.

Female voices introduce the Introit for the Assumption, Gaudeamus omnes in domino soon joined by the rest of Ensemble Gilles Binchois in this mellifluous, beautifully harmonised piece. This choir providing some really lovely textures and sonorities, beautifully shaped. A fine solo tenor voice chants Exaltata es sancta Dei genitrix before a quite beautiful overlay of Virgo prudentissima over the text of the Introit.

This choir bring so much to the Plainchant Introït: Salve sancta parens with a finely chosen use of individual voices and various parts of the choir. They bring a real strength and impact. This is impressively sung plainchant with some terrific harmonies.

Female voices open the Kyrie of Missa Virgo Prudentissima before it is beautifully woven throughout the choir, so distinctive. Again the use of sections of the choir is wonderfully done, blending and weaving the most wonderful harmonies.
The Gloria develops and blossoms through some quite lovely harmonies and textures to a lovely conclusion. The purity of individual voices is very fine.  
There is a Plainchant Graduel: Benedicta et venerabilis es where the male voices of the choir bring a lovely directness with, centrally, a solo tenor voice adding an extra passion. Female voices bring the Plainchant: Alleluia. Post partum, quite exquisitely done as they weave the musical lines, with lovely phrasing and pacing.

Male voices return for the Plainchant: Alleluia virga Jesse with further very fine solo voices adding to the variety before male voices of the choir lead to the conclusion. A solo tenor delivers the brief plainchant Plainchant Lecture: Sequentia Sancti Evangelii Secundum Lucam

The Credo of Missa Virgo Prudentissima rises through the various sections of the choir, slowly adding sonorities and textures with this choir finding a lovely rubato, a freedom that achieves a natural spontaneity.  There are some very fine individual vocal contributions with the music developing through some terrific passages, full of the most beautiful harmonies, rich in texture.

Male voices of the choir bring the Plainchant Offertoire: Ave Maria weaving some very fine lines, wonderfully phrased before a lone tenor provides a firm and beautifully clear Plainchant: Preface.

Female and male voices weave around each other in a terrific Sanctus from the Missa Virgo Prudentissima, developing some lovely harmonies and textures with, again, the choir bringing particularly lovely contributions from various sections of the choir. They weave a lovely tapestry of choral sound, constantly shifting textures and harmonies with some especially lovely rich tones in the Benedictus.
In the Agnus Dei of Missa Virgo Prudentissima Ensemble Gilles Binchois achieve a particularly fine quality, gently flowing, full of the most wonderful textures and sonorities as it unfolds and with a very fine section for female voices mid-way.
This celebration concludes with the Communion Plainchant et polyphonie à quatre voix: Beata Viscera before soon expanding beautifully through the finest polyphony. Later a tenor brings back the plainchant to which the choir join before rising in a quite beautiful polyphonic conclusion. 

This is an exceptionally fine disc in every way, vividly recorded at Couvent Saint Marc à Gueberschwihr, France. There are useful booklet notes together with full Latin texts and French and English translations.

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