Golden Retriever and guitarist Chuck Johnson have joined forces on the Thrill Jockey album Rain Shadow (out May 25th). Today the trio release a teaser track, clocking in at nearly an album side of new music, titled “Empty Quarter.”
Lupus Hellinck (1493-1541) isn’t a household name among mid-Renaissance composers. Based on a new recording of his Missa Surrexit pastor bonus, Hellinck’s work deserves wider currency. Despite having several pieces attributed to him that were actually by more prominent composers (Gombert and Verdelot among them), Johannes Lupi (1506?-1539) has also flown under the radar of many listeners. This excellent compact disc recording by the Brabant Ensemble should do good service in restoring both of them to rightful places of greater prominence.
Hellinck’s mass juxtaposes imitative lines within tautly constructed movements – the Agnus Dei, for instance, only has two rather than three sections. The Brabant Ensemble has a well-blended sound, its intonation precise. The counterpoint is well-delineated, especially in the Agnus Dei, where canonic entries proliferate until a luminous cadential close. Particularly lovely are the “Domine Deus,” “Et Resurrexit,” and “Benedictus” sections, in which duets and trios are employed to good effect.
Lupi uses a number of motives in each section of a piece that accumulate into large-scale motets. The ensemble also displays a more daring approach to musica ficta (chromatic accidentals) in the Lupi motets, creating some delightful crunch chords as a result. Several prolonged cadences give the opportunity to play with tempo and dynamics, the Brabant ensemble alternating nimble and expansive approaches, usually to better express the text. The most extensive and impressive of the Lupi pieces is a polyphonic setting of the Te Deum, one of only about sixteen extant examples from the sixteenth century (several of which were alternatim settings). By comparison, there are over a hundred extant Magnificat settings from this time period. Lupi’s penchant for “black notes” often presents quicksilver passages of corruscating counterpoint. Part of the plainchant appears at various points in the piece, including transposed and inverted statements that accumulate into swaths of imitation. Duple and triple meter are also used to delineate sections of the work, with a fast triple meter section concluding the proceedings with a rousing cadential elaboration.
The Brabant Ensemble sings this music persuasively enough that it stands up besides better known counterparts in the era of its composition, such as Clemens and Gombert. One hopes a second disc of the composers’ works might be in the offing.
Celebrating a new partnership between Nonesuch and International Anthem, two of the gold standard labels for adventurous music, January 24 will see the release of Jeff Parker and the New Breed’s Suite for Max Brown. Combining samples, some decidedly old school in origin, and exploratory improvisation, the music makes connections to Parker’s long tenure in Tortoise while adding still more depth to his musical profile.
Listeners will doubtless wonder: who is Max Brown? Parker’s mother’s maiden name was Maxine Brown, but her nickname is Max. The New Breed band name comes from the name of a store owned by Parker’s late father. Thus, the entire project is enacted as a tribute to family. The suite is Parker’s most personal, musically potent, statement to date.
Recording of the Year: Terry Riley, Sun Rings, Kronos Quartet, Volti (Nonesuch)
2002 work Sun Rings simultaneously celebrates the 25th
anniversary of the Voyager exploration and soberly reflects on September 11,
2001. Kronos Quartet, longtime collaborators with Riley, the ethereal voices of
Volti, and a collection of space sounds are combined to create a fascinating and
engaging amalgam. An exhilarating ride through the various styles that Riley
has at his disposal.
Best Recordings of 2019 (in no particular order)
Terry Riley, Sun Rings, Kronos Quartet, Volti (Nonesuch)
Jaimie Branch, FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)
FKA Twigs, Magdalene (Young Turks)
Kris Davis, Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
Angel Olsen, All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)
Guided by Voices, Sweating the Plague (GBV)
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Páll Ragnar Pálsson, Concurrence, Víkingur Ólafsson, Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, Iceland Symphony Orchestra – Daniel Bjarnason (Sono Luminus)
Michael Finnissy, Vocal Works 1974-2015, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, James Weeks (Winter and Winter)
Emmanuel Nunes, Eivend Buene, Andreas Dohmen, Márton Illés, Chaya Czernowin, Donaueschinger Musiktage 2017 (Neos)
Minor Pieces, The Heavy Steps of Dreaming (Fat Cat)
Zosha di Castri, Tachitipo (New Focus)
Morton Feldman, Piano, Philip Thomas (Another Timbre)
Aaron Copland, Billy the Kid and Grohg, Detroit Symphony – Leonard Slatkin (Naxos)
Ivo Perelman, Matt Maneri, Nate Wooley, Matthew Shipp, Strings 4 (Leo)
Liza Lim, Rebecca Saunders, Chaya Czernowin, Mirela Ivičević, and Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Speak Be Silent, Riot Ensemble – Aaron Holloway-Nahum (Huddersfield-NMC)
Now in their forty-sixth year of singing, the Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, have long made an annual December concert at Church of St. Mary the Virgin in midtown Manhattan a stop on their winter tour. Part of Miller Theatre’s Early Music Series, these concerts have focused on Renaissance polyphony, but there have also been some noteworthy new works on the programs. They frequently program the music of Arvo Pärt. Last year’s concert featured the premiere of a piece for the Tallis Scholars written by Nico Muhly.
However, this year an imaginative program, titled “Reflections” is on offer that interweaves selections based on different liturgical sections, bringing together composers from England and on the Continent active throughout the Renaissance as well as twentieth century French composers Francis Poulenc and Olivier Messiaen.
The group is nearing the completion of its edition of Josquin’s Masses. Their latest recording of Missa Mater Patris and Missa Da Pacem (Gimell CD, 2019), presents pieces whose attribution has been the matter of some controversy. The former mass is based on music by Brumel, which would be the only such borrowing by Josquin, contains some uncharacteristic blocks of homophony at strategic places and fewer of the composer’s signature imitative duos. So, is it a misattribution? Without stating anything categorically, in his characteristically erudite liner notes Phillips suggests the Brumel connection might place the mass in 1512 or 1513, shortly after Brumel’s death as an homage to a composer friend; this would make it one of the last two mass settings we have by Josquin. The source material might help to account for the different approach.
Whether Josquin wrote it or someone else, Missa Mater Patris contains some much fine music that is superlatively sung on the Gimmell CD. The Hosanna sections of the Sanctus and Benedictus, borrowing cascades in thirds from the Brumel motet, is both fleet and exuberant. The Agnus Dei III is another section where the contributions of Brumel are expertly integrated.
Phillips relates that, from the nineteenth century to relatively recently, Missa Da Pacem was held up as an example of the Josquinian style. Recent discoveries have suggested another author, Noel Bauldeweyn (Beauty Farm recently released a fine disc of this lesser known composer’s masses). Phillips is not entirely willing to concede that Da Pacem isn’t Josquin’s, he instead mentions passages that seem to point to one and then the other author and leaves the listener a chance to judge – and savor – for themselves.