Clemens Non Papa

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COMPOSERS: Clemens Non Papa
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Missa Ecce quam bonum
PERFORMER: Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
Clemens non Papa came from the Low Countries and he wrote these works in the 1540s and 1550s. Of his literally hundreds of works few have been recorded before, perhaps because of his apparent tendency to write in a somewhat tame harmonic style, with textures dominated by the top voice. The performers need to get beyond the blank amiability of the surface, and the recording engineer needs to strike the right balance between the spacious presence of the choir as a whole, and the clarity of the lower voices and the words. For the most part these challenges are well met here. The individual movements of the Mass are nicely contrasted with, for example, robust duetting in the ‘Et resurrexit’, and a touchingly reflective Agnus Dei. The motets, too, have moments to cherish (‘Accesserant’ – perhaps not by Clemens – brings out the best in the singers), but in Ecce quam bonum the words seem to be lost somewhere between the consonant-less sopranos and the oozy lower parts, and Pascha nostrum passes by with blank efficiency. Even so, this recording provides an intriguing window on to the complex soul of Clemens non Papa – a composer some of us previously suspected of not having one. Anthony Pryer