The title of the disc refers to the Medici Pope from 1513 to 1521, Leo X, and his broad and perceptive tastes in fine music. The Swiss-based early music ensemble La Morra, directed by Corina Marti and Michal Gondko, are a versatile group consisting of five male voices and six instrumentalists, and they bring us a selection of sacred and secular, instrumental and vocal pieces. The works, all from the time of Leo X and/or associated with him - or, in three cases, composed by the Pope himself - are extremely well chosen and organised into a coherent programme, resulting in a wealth of great music, beautifully performed and a delight to listen to.
Among many fine and enchanting items are the opening piece, Rossino Mantovano's 'Lirum bililirum', a memorable, catchy melody in a wonderfully lively performance from the five voices further enhanced by the brilliance of two recorders and other instruments. This is followed by Domenico da Piacenza's instrumental 'Rostibolli gioioso' (track 2), a spirited dance movement in lovely instrumental textures. Antoine Bruhier's lively and graceful motet 'Vivite felices' (3) is another very fine piece, in a superb performance with perfect vocal blend and balance from La Morra. This is followed by three nicely-played lute pieces by Milano.
Bernardo Pisano's motet 'O vos omnes' is also lovely (10), and I especially love the short but powerful and expressive 'Jerusalem, convertere' by Elzéar Genet, commonly known as Carpentras (12). Two harpsichord pieces by Marco Antonio Cavazzoni (13-14) are sensitively played by Corina Marti on a fine-toned instrument, Italian in sound although the otherwise excellent booklet doesn't give details. The haunting words and melody of 'Fortuna disperata' (15) are beautifully rendered by countertenor and instruments, followed by Heinrich Isaac's setting combining its theme with the chant 'Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis'. Another highlight comes with the graceful and distinctive polyphonic lines of Jean Mouton's 'In omni tribulatione' (19). The excellent Cavazzoni returns with his keyboard intabulature of 'O stella maris', again beautifully played by Corina Marti – probably my favourite work in the programme, in fact, at least after the first couple of hearings. The disc closes with Josquin's exquisite 'Salve Regina'.
This may all sound like a bit of a mixed bag, but in fact it really does work superbly. The recorded sound is exceptionally fine in both ambience and clarity, and all the works are performed with absolute conviction. Booklet notes are excellent, and all texts and translations are given. This programme stands out for its originality, coherence, and for the very high quality of both music and performance.