Magnificat - Scattered Ashes - BBC Music Magazine
Despite his condemnation of earthly pleasures, the iconoclastic Dominican friar Savonarola inspired a surprising legacy of musical outpourings. Among these 'scattered ashes' are the Latin motets recorded here, based on the psalm meditations he wrote whilst imprisoned awaiting execution. After his death, Renaissance composers across Europe, of the stature of Byrd, Gombert, Josquin, and Lassus, carved musical monuments from his words - ironically, in the polyphonic idiom against which the friar had railed because it charmed the senses and obscured the words. Savonarola's texts are deeply penitential in quality, yet the music on these two discs ranges from austere to luxuriant, urgent to serene. Magnificat's director Philip Cave shape's poised, subtly expressive and finely balanced readings from the vocal ensemble he founded a quarter of a century ago. His measured tempos reflect the predominantly contemplative tone of these works, and the sable hues and unwavering timbres of his singers are aptly evocative of Savonarolan sobriety. Fleeting visions of light illuminate the pervasive melancholy, notably in the radiant performance of Palestrina's Tribularer, si nescirem. Here, and throughout the programme, are constant allusions to Josquin's hauntingly introspective motet Miserere mei, Deus, echoes of which turn and return like obsessive memories. By offsetting single voices with the richer sound of the full ensemble, Cave throws sections of this statuesque motet into high relief- and to vivid effect.