Magnificat - Philippe Rogier -

The little-known and rarely recorded Philippe Rogier belongs to that impossibly romantic group of Renaissance composers whose details are obscure, their works mainly lost to perpetuity; yet, from a period when life for most was nasty, brutish and short, they have achieved immortality by bequeathing to us music of such affecting beauty that it has defied the ravages of time. Rogier, born in Flanders around 1561, was recruited as a chorister to the Spanish court of Philip II in 1572, appointed chief composer of the Royal Chapel at the age of 25 and died a mere ten years later. Necessarily a prolific writer, at a time when the liturgical calendar demanded a constant supply of new music, only a fifth of his 250 catalogued works have survived; this disc includes a premiere recording of a motet recently discovered in Valladolid Cathedral.

The instrumental accompaniment featured almost throughout this disc (colourfully provided by the period instruments of the wonderfully-monikered ‘His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts') will surprise those familiar with the unadorned polyphony of the English and Flemish schools, whose ascetic Protestantism discouraged this. There was a long tradition of accompaniment in Spain and Italy, and despite Rogier's Flemish roots, it is the polychoral style then emerging from Italy that exerts the strongest influence upon his writing here. He was certainly familiar with the works of Andrea Gabrieli, and Palestrina's motet Domine in Virtute Tua inspired Rogier's parody mass of the same name (both are performed here); yet I fancy too that I hear a faint premonition of the great sacred works of Monteverdi, whose monumental Vespers appeared within 15 years of Rogier's demise.

Magnificat celebrates its 20th anniversary this year; their discography for Linn includes an earlier Rogier recording and a spectacular 1997 performance of Tallis' vast 40-part Spem in Alium (CKD233) that remains a definitive version of this essential work. Informed by the scholarly rigour of their approach, this performance confirms their place in the very front rank of Early Music practitioners, endowed an even more piquant historical flavour by the collection of mediaeval wind and string instruments that support them. The recording is very good, though the acoustic of the recording venue seems a little dry, and its somewhat distant perspective emphasises the sense of space while robbing it of a certain degree of presence.
17 May 2011