Clemens Non Papa: Missa Pro Defunctis

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Clemens Non Papa
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Missa Pro Defunctis; Penetential Motets
PERFORMER: Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67848

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This is the second recording by the Brabant Ensemble devoted to Clemens (the first was on Signum in 2004). Together they go some way to convincing us that he was one of the better composers of the 16th century, even though his drunken and immoral ways did not help his reputation – apparently the ‘Non Papa’ part of his name signified that he was ‘absolutely not the Pope’. 

The disc opens with his subdued Requiem Mass. Many groups would have tackled this with exaggerated dynamics, squeeze-boxing every phrase for maximum impact. Here, though, we get absolute calm, good tuning and chordal singing that glows from within.

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The same musicality is also evident in the motet Heu, mihi where a dialogue with God is projected as a real drama. In Vox in Rama, though, inner details are lost: the lamenting top line at ‘Rachel plorans’ is echoed immediately with anguish in the tenor, though we don’t hear it here, and in general the lower voices need to be a little more supported and richer. That said, the Ensemble does full justice to the brilliant Tristitia et anxietas, and the De profundis is thrilling. Anthony Pryer