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Magnificat - Scattered Ashes - McAlister Matheson Music


19 February 2016
McAlister Matheson Music
Anne McAlister

This fascinating disc takes as its starting point the influence of the Dominican friar Savonarola on music in the 16th-century.

Savonarola built up a considerable following with his calls for religious, political and social reform. While in prison in Florence awaiting execution, he wrote meditations on Psalm 50 and Psalm 30 that his followers disseminated throughout Europe. Shortly after his execution in 1498, the Duke of Ferrara, a supporter, commissioned Josquin to set Psalm 50. The resulting magnificent work, taking over seventeen minutes to perform, inspired other composers to write works using one of Josquin's themes or techniques in their own settings of texts drawn from the two psalms or Savonarola's meditations.

This two-disc set presents six such works, opened by Josquin's Miserere and closed by Byrd's masterly setting of Infelix ego. In between come motets by Palestrina; Le Jeune (a setting of Tristia obsedit me remarkable for its aggressive, war-like passages); Lassus (a serene, imploring Infelix ego with surprising harmonic shifts); Lhéritier; Gombert (a setting of verses from Psalm 30 that unfolds inexorably); and Clemens non Papa.

In performing the Josquin, Philip Cave has chosen to allocate the more intimate polyphonic verse sections to solo voices, making for a rich contrast with the full choir's impassioned homophonic repetitions of Miserere mei, Deus - an effective approach, further enhanced by the quality of the singers at his disposal.

Byrd's Infelix ego represents a culmination of the tradition of setting Savonarola's meditations to music. Composed in the late 1570s, its ending is extraordinary; as Patrick Macey's informative booklet essay puts it, ‘[at ‘misericordiam tuam'] the voices pour forth wave upon wave of imitative entries and ascend to the heights.'

The sixteen-strong choir Magnificat draws out the essence of this music over a generous eighty-four minutes, matching the excellent scholarship that has led to this disc.


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