Brumel, born in 1460, was one of the students of the great composer Josquin des Pres, becoming one of the great Franco-Flemish composers in his own right. He was particularly noted for his liturgical compositions,. He worked at the Cathedrals in Chartres and Laon, and was employed for a time in Notre Dame in Paris. There is evidence he also worked in Geneva, Chambery and Rome, having a rather wandering lifestyle common to musicians and composers of the time. His career highlight was serving as successor of his teacher Josquin in the court of Ferrara for 15 years, until his death in 1520.
--Missa Et ecce terrae motus--
This is a magnificient 12-part mass, the `Earthquake' mass. There are twelve voices employed throughout almost the entire mass, a rarity then or now. It was preserved through the auspices of Orlandus Lassus, who thought highly of the piece. It is hard to describe this mass in terms of polyphony, given the overwhelming number of voices that seemingly run together in non-conventional ways. Phillips describes the effect here as one of `decorating colossal harmonic pillars'. The piece is a bit slow-moving in tempo.
--Lamentations and Magnificat secundi toni--
This setting for the Lamentations is the only surviving one of Brumel's, low and slow harmonic movement that is very sombre, perfect for the darkness that grows throughout the liturgy of Holy Week leading up to Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The second tone Magnificat is very close to the style of the 12-part mass, with chant in the top part. It is an interesting departure from typical compositions of the time.
Being internationally acclaimed, the Tallis Scholars' CDs typically present their commentary and texts in English, French, German and Italian (together with any Latin texts); that is true of this disc. The cover art also typically represents visual arts contemporary with the compositions - here there are two panels from `The Last Judgement' by Rogier van der Weyden, an artist of the generation prior to Brumel
--The Tallis Scholars--
The Tallis Scholars, a favourite group of mine since the first time I heard them decades ago, are a group dedicated to the performance and preservation of the best of this type of music. A choral group of exceptional ability, I have been privileged to see them many times in public, and at almost every performance, their singing seems almost like a spiritual epiphany for me, one that defies explanation in words. Directed by Peter Phillips, the group consists of a small number of male and female singers who have trained themselves well to their task.
Their recordings are of a consistent quality that deserve more than five stars; this particular disc of pieces by Brumel is worthy of a place on the shelf of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. It is remarkable, both in composition and performance. The original recording was made in 1992 in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Salle, Norfolk, one of their favourite recording sites.