COMPOSERS: La Rue
WORKS: Mass of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin; Easter Mass,
PERFORMER: Ars Antiqua de Paris/Michael Sanvoisin
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554656
The ‘deserve-to-be-better-known’ group of composers is a large one, populated by countless rather tiresome strugglers. But Pierre de La Rue (d1518) is a genuine exception. His breathtaking music was mainly composed for a string of Burgundian-Hapsburg rulers including Marguerite of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Indeed, the emperor so loved the two Masses recorded here that he had them copied several times into luxurious manuscripts.
This is complex and – whatever the purists might say – deeply expressive music. The movements of the Mass of the Seven Sorrows are designed to flourish naturally if left to their own devices, but the performance here is unnecessarily hasty and rather pat. The Easter Mass is much better paced with a clearer sense of the overall architecture, and with some fine individual singing in the ‘Benedictus qui venit’ section of the Sanctus. Even so, this is not an entirely comfortable ensemble of five voices, since sometimes one of them has enough wobble to shake a cocktail, and another has enough edge to grate cheese. This can lead to something of a party atmosphere (as in the noisy polyphonic melée of the Credo of the first Mass), but I think La Rue had something more precise in mind. Anthony Pryer