... of one of the greatest musical wonders of all time! I've had this recording since 1992, as well as the competing performances by the Huelgas Ensemble and by Dominique Visse, but I've suffered seismic trepidation whenever I've tried to review it. And then I listened to it today, and felt I had to proclaim its brilliance once and for all.
The Missa Et ecce terrae motus is constructed on a portion of the antiphon for lauds on Easter, which uses the text from the Gospel of Luke that describes how the earth was shaken at the moment of Christ's death. It's obvious that Antoine Brumel (1460-c.1520) intended a musical 'depiction' of an earthquake, and of a sublime moment of eschatological potency. The music is monumental and stately, yet at the same time agitated , with musical motifs scattering like birds above the long-note canonic tenors, an apt portrayal of deep-moving tectonic blocks. This is a true 12-voice composition, not a polychoral work for two or three choruses singing in response to each other. Rather, the voices group in shifting ensembles according to range, the trebles singing as one contrapuntal choir, and altos another, and so forth, and then the six upper voices coalescing as if singing a motet a sei voci, followed by the six lower voices singing a similar passage, and then the passages overlapping each other. There's no way anyone short of a musical prodigy can hear all the complexities of this composition in one listening session... perhaps not even in ten sessions, untill you begin to 'assemble' the piece in your musical memory. Reading through the score would be a major aide, if you can find a copy; that way you'll see just how artfully Brumel has distributed his phrases to create such an unsettling sense of movement. Voices rise and fall, slide over each other, topple, clamber back, seem to shift from shrieks of horror to exclamations of exaltation in musical micro-moments.
I'm not always impressed with Peter Phillips's conducting, but on this CD he's got most things right, and I think it's purely by musical instinct rather than scholarship. His tempi are brisker than either of the other recordings, and a sense of accelerating excitement is the result. The Tallis Scholars are two on a part for this performance --and I KNOW that one on a part would be better, more dramatic, transparent rather than solemnly resonant -- but they sing with supreme discipline and precision. Both of the other recordings are muddy and top-heavy by comparison, even though Dominique Visse uses trombones in place of voices on some lines.
This interpretation is perhaps as well-done as possible on a recording, though it isn't quite a match for a live performance. Spatial relationship between the 12-voices add another dimension to the tussle between chaos and divine might. I would stage the piece with the twelve singers standing in a shallow arc, a least three feet apart; I might even have them lean forward or raise their faces as they sing passages. When you listen to this CD on your home system, I urge you to tinker with your EQ and your stereo separation, to replicate as much as possible of the spatial flux of the music.
This is a composition everyone has to hear sometime in her/his musical life. Let's call it the Bruno MUST BUY for June, 2009.
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