Gombert: Magnificat No. 1; Magnificat No. 2; Magnificat No. 3; Magnificat No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Gombert
LABELS: Gimell
WORKS: Magnificat No. 1; Magnificat No. 2; Magnificat No. 3; Magnificat No. 4
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
CATALOGUE NO: CDGIM 037
Nicolas Gombert’s eight Magnificat settings rank among the finest works of the 16th century, but have never been recorded complete. This marvellously energetic CD is presumably the first of two in which we shall get to hear them all. The fervent devotion of the works may have a rather curious origin: apparently Gombert wrote them as a penance after being imprisoned on a galley on the orders of the Holy Roman Emperor for molesting a choirboy.

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All the Magnificats follow the same basic pattern: the even-numbered verses are set in polyphony, the odd-numbered ones in chant. Moreover, the works have strong, inbuilt structures beginning with a few voices and gradually increasing the texture to five or six parts towards the end. The complex, weaving, switchback lines are brilliantly balanced and clear here, though the brisk choral sound can become rather forced and featureless – as in Magnificat 1. However, the real delight of this recording is the extravagant but exciting experiment in added accidentals (based on an excellent edition by John Milsom), which produces a riot of chromatic crunching in Magnificats 3 and 4. The way to musical heaven is, apparently, covered with gravel of the finest crushed harmony. Anthony Pryer