x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Cinquecento: Willaert, Missa Mente tota and Motets

A little goes a long way, but this collection of Renaissancce music is performed with clarity and control, and is a delight to dip into.

AD201010706159972AR
AD201010706159972AR

The pan-European male-voice sextet Cinquecento have carved out a niche for themselves as specialists in Renaissance vocal music - their name comes from the Renaissance name for the 16th Century - and in the relatively obscure figure of Adrian Willaert, they prove the fertility of their turf. Willaert was part of a generation of northern European composers to decamp to Italy, bringing with them the startling Franco-Flemish innovations in polyphony. Gioseffo Zarlino called Willaert "the new Pythagoras", and like Pythagoras he established a cult of his own, the proto-Baroque Venetian School. He became the maestro di cappella of St Mark's Basilica, then the epicentre of the musical world, in 1527. This collection focuses on his Missa Mente tota sequence of motets, graceful constructions of antiphonal melody, folding and pooling like a velvet robe lowered on to flagstones, at once sensuous and infinitely chaste. The ensemble performs with clarity and control throughout, the subtlest hints of vibrato colouring their alternately warm and crystalline tones, the latter courtesy of the impressively smooth countertenors Terry Wey and Jakob Huppmann. Admittedly a little of this stuff goes a long way - this is contemplative devotional music, after all, and nothing much happens sub specie aeternitatis - but it's a delight to dip into. The disc is bookended by part of a motet cycle by Willaert's master Josquin des Prez and by an elegy by Willaert's pupil Cipriano de Rore, which embellishes the line "live on Adrian, glory of the Muses". Such a recording goes a long way to assuring that he does.