Giaches de Wert’s Divine Theatre: Motets Books sung by Stile Antico

COMPOSERS: Giaches de Wert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Giaches de Wert
WORKS: Divine Theatre: Motets Books 2 & 3 – selection
PERFORMER: Stile Antico
CATALOGUE NO: HMM 807620 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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These motets, all published in 1581 when De Wert was working at the Santa Barbara Chapel in Mantua, include some of the finest works of that generation of composers, Palestrina and Victoria notwithstanding. The best of them – ‘Vox in Rama’ and ‘Egressus Jesus’ – have already been recorded both by Erik van Nevel (Accent, 2005) and Bo Holten (Kontrapunkt, 2013), and six of the other works here are also duplicated on one or other of those same discs. This overlap is regrettable since De Wert wrote numerous motets, many of which still remain unperformed. Moreover, he was a strong influence on the young Monteverdi who joined him in Mantua in 1590.

Stile Antico brings experience and a steady technique to these pieces, which is just as well given the varied types of text setting involved. In the joyous opening motet, ‘Gaudete in Domino’, they are fresh and exuberant (though their tuning is not quite blended), and they produce the same vividness in their depiction of the choppy waters surrounding the disciples’ boat in ‘Ascendente Jesu’. In ‘Hoc enim’, a kind of theological sermon, it is not surprising that they struggled to give the work shape, though we might have expected more ‘divine theatre’ from their account of Saul on the road to Damascus (‘Saule, Saule’). That said, their ‘Quiescat vox’ is beautiful as is their affective portrayal of the rich, mannerist dissonances of ‘Amen, amen dico vobis’. More De Wert from this group would be very welcome.

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Anthony Pryer