A composer of the late Renaissance period, Orlandus Lassus was born in 1532. Franco-Flemish in background, there is a legend that he was kidnapped three different times during his boyhood for his exquisite choir voice. Lassus produced over 2,000 works in Latin, Italian, French, and German vocal genres, practically every one known in his time. His versatility is virtually unmatched. Among the 2000 pieces were 530 motets (on religious and secular themes) and over 60 masses. His career was spent in the Low Countries, in Italy, and in Germany, and he traveled extensively throughout other European countries. He died in 1594 one of the most celebrated composers of the age.
Motets (in this sense) are choral settings of Latin religious texts, generally in four to six voiced parts, sometimes more. The first motet, `Osculetur me', is the basis of the mass that is performed on this disc. Other motets featured here carry the same qualities, with some embellishments and differences. `Alma Redemptoris Mater' uses a double-choir arrangement as does the first motet; the other Marian motets are in six- and seven-part arrangements. `Hodie completi sunt' is a strong contrapuntal piece, and `Timor et tremor' is a unique piece, anticipating some of Gesualdo's work in the next generation.
--Missa Osculetur me--
The mass here consists of the classic parts - Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. This is one of three double-choir masses Lassus composed. There is long phrasing, constrasting moods, and techniques that compare favourably to the greats Palestrina and Tallis in terms of both parody and original composition. There is a power and force in the music that can, unrestrained, become overpowering. Here it is sublime.
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 it is an Albrecht Altdorfer, The Nativity, circa 1520, from a collection in Munich.
--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 Orlandus Lassus deserves a place on the shelf of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. It is wonderful musically and spiritually. The music on this disc was originally recorded in 1989 at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Norfolk, one of their favourite recording sites.