Ceuleers, Comes, Josquindes Prez, Wylkynson, Striggio,Maessens, Rebelo, Gabrieli and Tallis

COMPOSERS: Ceuleers,Comes,Gabrieli and Tallis,Josquindes Prez,Maessens,Rebelo,Striggio,Wylkynson
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: 40 Voices
WORKS: Works by Ceuleers, Comes, Josquindes Prez, Wylkynson, Striggio,Maessens, Rebelo, Gabrieli and Tallis
PERFORMER: Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 801 954
This live recording celebrates the

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35th anniversary of the Huelgas

Ensemble. Its programming

(‘sommets de polyphonie’) assembles

great compositions of the genre,

several previously recorded

by the ensemble, with other

opportunities for Van Nevel to flash

his conducting strengths. Given

Van Nevel’s flamboyance, genius

and unconventionality, hubris in

recording was probably inevitable.

The heights Van Nevel achieves

in this traversing of peaks may be

worth the troughs. Has the art of

canonic composition ever been so

artfully sounded as here? In Josquin

des Prez’s four-choir canon, Qui

habitat, Van Nevel presides over 24

voices to rhythmically interleave each

separate line. The outcome is more

effective than his earlier recording

of this work: the toll of the bass line

of two neighbouring tones swings

against the stress patterns of other

lines, creating the sensation of being

in a vast bell tower. On the next track

the Ensemble becomes kitten-like,

playing precisely yet whimsically

with a melody – Mouton’s En venant

de Lyon – that scuttles between

16 voices in Pierre Maessens’s

adaptation. Here Van Nevel shows

his celebrated flair for digging out

contrapuntal gems from neglected

sources, although the 35-voice work

commissioned to honour the Huelgas

Ensemble does not compel.

The longueurs of this disc surface

in its best-known masterpiece,

Tallis’s Spem in alium, as Van Nevel’s

re-reading threatens to collapse

under the weight of his mannerisms.

Choices which formerly provoked

wonder – the clouds of sound,

removal of metric sign-posting,

and emphasis on rhetorical gestures

– now undermine the ensemble

and obscure the work’s interplay

of motifs. The recording quality

contributes to this, as precise

engineering allows sibilants and

woody vocal qualities to disrupt the

sound’s surface. Van Nevel devotees

will welcome this recording, but

other aficionados of polyphony may

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have reservations.