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40 Voices / Paul Van Nevel, Huelgas Ensemble


Release Date: 02/13/2007 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 801954   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Willem CeuleersJuan Bautista ComesJosquin Des PrézRobert Wilkinson,   ... 
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

If you love Tallis' 40-voice motet Spem in alium, or any of the more refulgent polychoral works of Gabrieli (represented here by the 16-voice Exaudi me Domine), then you'll love this disc. It contains works composed for anywhere from 12 (Comes' Gloria) to that fabled number of 40 voices, including Alessandro Striggio Sr's Ecce beatam lucem, the piece that took 16th-century England by storm and inspired Tallis to write his subsequent masterpiece of one-upmanship. The performances of these two musical behemoths (relatively speaking) are splendidly sonorous and flowing. In the Tallis, Van Nevel largely avoids the big contrasts of dynamics and texture that characterize the more dramatic approach of, say, the Tallis Scholars, stressing instead Read more the music's sense of line and flow. It's an equally valid approach, particularly as well realized as it is here.

Still, for my money, the outstanding items on the disc are Josquin's Qui habatit (24 voices) and João Lourenço Rebelo's Lauda Jerusalem (16 voices). The former is a marvel of intricate canonic interplay that Van Nevel ensures that you can actually hear; it's as close as you can come to a genuine "sound sculpture", a musical object that seems to rotate in space before your very eyes (or ears). Rebelo's motet is just plain gorgeous, harmonically, and unlike much polychoral music it doesn't sound like endless permutations on just a couple of chords and arpeggios. Leading off the program is a contemporary work, Nomen mortis infame (35 voices), by Huelgas-Ensemble member Willem Ceuleers. The music wears its modernity lightly, fitting in perfectly with the pieces that follow while retaining a character of its own.

The only small quibble I have with this production concerns the way that the microphones pick up sibilant consonants (the letter "s" in particular) in the biggest pieces--Tallis and Striggio especially. The result has an oddly detached quality; the consonants seem to float independently of the voices, as though a separate audience were whispering during the performance. It's a problem inherent in the repertoire, although some may find it only adds to the music's feeling of mystery and vastness (and that may well have been Van Nevel's intention). In multi-channel playback, with its additional precision in localizing the voices within the performance space, I find this to be less of an issue, but it's a point that needed to be raised. Nevetheless, it's impossible to deny that this is a truly marvelous program that no choral music enthusiast can afford to miss.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Nomen mortis infame by Willem Ceuleers
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Written: 2005 
2.
Gloria by Juan Bautista Comes
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
3.
Qui habitat by Josquin Des Préz
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Period: Renaissance 
4.
Credi in Deum/Jesus autem by Robert Wilkinson
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Period: Renaissance  
5.
Ecce beatam lucem by Alessandro Striggio
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; Italy 
6.
En venant de Lyon by Pieter Maessens
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
7.
Lauda Jerusalem by Joao Lourenço Rebelo
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Written: 1638-52 
8.
Exaudi me Domine by Giovanni Gabrieli
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Period: Renaissance 
Written: Italy 
9.
Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis
Conductor:  Paul van Nevel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huelgas Ensemble
Period: Renaissance 
Written: after 1559; England 

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