Isaac

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Isaac
LABELS: Christophorus
WORKS: Missa Virgo prudentissima; Motets
PERFORMER: Munich Dommusik: Capella Cathedralis, Ecco la Musica/Karl-Ludwig Nies
CATALOGUE NO: CHR 77218
These recordings are particularly welcome as they increase significantly the available music of a fine composer. Isaac was a well-travelled Netherlander who joined Maximilian’s court in 1497. The two discs starkly illustrate our dependence on the selection of forces, venues and sound engineering. Hofkapelle – male voices, cornetts and sackbuts – together with the distinctively voiced organ of a Black Forest church, have an excitingly raw quality. Male sopranos sometimes sharpen in their topmost register, but at moments of cadential repose all six voices generate that special sonority which arises from impeccable intonation. Gregorian chant is recorded more remotely than polyphony, creating a distinctive sense of distant fervour.

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Munich Cathedral Choir has 14 singers; its women are much smoother than Hofkapelle’s male sopranos in the high duet which opens the motet Virgo prudentissima and each section of the Mass based on the same plainchant. The cathedral acoustic reverberates for up to eight seconds – plainchant acquires a strikingly evocative halo of lingering sound. Tempo variations between sections within the Mass movements take a moment to grasp in such a misty acoustic, but the sound is enchanting.

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Cornetts and sackbuts play transcriptions and alternate with voices, most memorably with the Hofkapelle in Isaac’s familiar ‘Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen’ lament. George Pratt