The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539
Works by Arcadelt, Cadéac, Ferrariensis, Gombert, Jhan, Lupi, Phinot, Sarton and Willaert
Siglo de Oro/Patrick Allies
Delphian DCD 34284 67:14 mins
There are several reasons why this collection is called ‘mysterious’. It was published in Protestant Strasbourg but contains Catholic pieces, the items were sent from Milan Cathedral but we don’t know why, it contains 38 motets (12 recorded here) some of them unknown from other sources, and some of the composers are little known or otherwise completely unknown elsewhere (Johannes Sarton). In short, this is precisely the kind of innovative project Patrick Allies and the Siglo de Oro like to get their teeth into.
In some ways the less complex pieces come off best. Maistre Jhan’s Pater noster is performed with balance and formal control, as is Arcadelt’s Dum complerentur with its arresting opening of high voices. The latter’s text contains one of the few dramatic events (a heavenly storm) in these liturgical pieces, but the composer makes little of it, and this rather typically sets a challenge for the performers to give shape or direction to this music. Willaert’s Laetare sancte mater on Augustine of Hippo for example, is given a lively performance, but the lower voices are not clearly articulated and the polyphony is made to roll on rather than develop with purpose or with identified and focused goals along the way.
The big surprise here was the impressive quality of the Christmas piece Haec Dies by the otherwise unknown Joahannes Sarton and which attracted a commendably persuasive and alert interpretation – just one of many rare insights on this disc. All of the tracks are premiere recordings.