Inferno – Cantica sacra sex et octo vocibus; Sacrae cantiones, liber quartus – Audi tellius; Cantiones sacrae sex vocum – Ad Dominum cum tribularer; Media vita in morte sumus; Patrocinium musices, prima pars – Media vita in morte sumus, etc
Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
Harmonia Mundi HMM902650 46:31 mins
Following its 2018 recording of funeral motets and laments by Josquin des Prez, Cappella Amsterdam’s latest disc – a drift of melancholy swan songs by Orlandus Lassus – has a similarly sombre and elegiac tone. Their selection of motets for six and eight voices includes settings of Biblical texts from Ecclesiastes and Corinthians, plangent responses to the psalms and a dark-hued setting of the rhetorical Latin poem ‘Audi tellus’. With its words drawn from the Requiem Mass, ‘Recordare, Jesu pie’ seems to have had a personal resonance for the composer as it closes his last collection of motets, dating from the year of his death. In it, he poignantly plays with the word ‘lassus’ (the literal meaning of which is ‘weary’) and with relentlessly descending lines that lend the music its sense of resignation.
Conductor Daniel Reuss coaxes sable timbres from his 16-voice ensemble, wrapping the listener in a dark shroud – apt for these musical reflections on the transience of things. The singers’ vocal production is tightly focussed: intonation and articulation are clean, and the ensemble’s sound is balanced and homogenous, with sonorous lower voices enhancing the mournful quality of the music. In an attempt to convey Lassus’s imperturbable spirit, Reuss keeps a tight rein on expressive devices and dynamics, resulting in performances that are deeply reflective and somewhat circumspect. Microphones are placed close enough to discern the threads of the vocal tapestry, to which the acoustic of Amsterdam’s Walloon Church (which dates from the composer’s lifetime) adds a glowing resonance.