Demantius

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Demantius
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Trias precum vespertinarum; Threnodiae
PERFORMER: Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901705
By an astonishing coincidence, Demantius and Monteverdi were born and died in the same years, and both wrote large-scale settings of the Latin Vespers. But there the similarities end. Demantius’s Trias precum vespertinarum of 1602, in rich, dense polyphony, is very different from Monteverdi’s modern masterpiece eight years later. Only a concern for vertical harmony rather than fully crafted counterpoint marks Demantius as belonging to the 17th rather than 16th century.

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The ensemble here is of up to 13 voices, with instruments – strings, recorders, period trombones and bassoon and cornett. Within the limitations of Demantius’s often brief phrases, each new fragment of text inviting another short musical idea, van Nevel carves shapely legato lines. Voices, particularly tenors, create a rather hard-edged upper layer obscuring inner details in forte, though there are exquisitely beautiful quieter moments and some strikingly wide-spaced antiphonal dialogue.

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I particularly enjoyed two German hymns, strophic and refreshingly simple. Each verse is treated to a different scoring – solo soprano with strings, expanded then to solo vocal ensemble, instruments only with recorders gently decorating the melody – contrasts of pure magic. Could we not, though, expect rather more than a mean 47 minutes from Demantius’s extensive but barely recorded work-list? George Pratt