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17 March 2023
"The twelve singers manage to transmit an extraordinary feeling of intimacy and conjunction, perhaps enhanced by the fact to sing from a lectern with the same score. This exceptional work brings out a forgotten gem."Ritmo, 01-2-2024
Jacob Obrecht’s Missa Maria zart is an extraordinary work, both literally, as probably the longest extant Mass of the Renaissance, taking an hour to perform, and in the more general meaning of the word. It is recognised as one of the most ambitious artistic creations of its time; some have claimed that it defies description. The director of Cappella Pratensis, Stratton Bull mentioned his interest in the complexities of Renaissance mensural notation and the difficulties that modern-day ensembles sometimes experience in interpreting it. Although several recordings of this Mass already existed, few if any had succeeded in doing justice to its subtle system of mensuration signs and use of notation generally. A symposium was held in 2018 and the resulting performance duly took place, but plans for a recording were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This had the welcome if unintended consequence of permitting several other live performances before the recording sessions in September 2022: the interpretation that Cappella Pratensis commits to disc is well ‘lived in’.
Jacob Obrecht was born in Ghent between 1457 and 1459. His career included a string of posts as choirmaster in Northern France and the Low Countries (Cambrai, Bruges, Bergen op Zoom, Antwerp). He died in Ferrara (of plague) in May or June 1505.
It is not known when the Missa Maria zart was composed but there are good reasons for thinking it one of Obrecht’s very last Mass cycles.
Even by Obrecht’s standards Maria zart is unusually complex and inventive.
Given the general agreement that Maria zart was probably commissioned for the Imperial court at Innsbruck, Cappella Pratensis uses the Germanic pronunciation that would have been in use there.
Cappella Pratensis specializes in the music of Josquin Desprez (= Josqinus Pratensis) and other polyphonic composers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The ensemble performs its own programs and original interpretations, which are based on academic research. As was customary in the renaissance, the singers of Cappella Pratensis usually stand around a central music stand, singing from facsimiles of original choirbooks. This creates a unique perspective on the repertoire. The ensemble, founded in 1987, is now under the artistic direction of singer and conductor Stratton Bull.
In addition to regular concerts in the Netherlands and Belgium, Cappella Pratensis performs in leading international festivals and venues in France, Portugal, Germany and the United States. The ensemble also has also released several CD recordings which have been greeted with rave press reviews and awards, including the Diapason d’Or and the Prix Choc. From 2005 to 2007, Cappella Pratensis was ensemble-in-residence at the Fondation Royaumont (France), where it gave courses and concerts, and worked with several prominent musicians. In 2009, it released a DVD/CD production of the Missa de Sancto Donatiano by Jacob Obrecht, which contained a reconstruction of the first performance of this mass, filmed on location in Bruges, supplemented with extensive documentation. This production was awarded with a Diapason découverte and the highest rating in the professional magazine Classica.
The CD Vivat Leo! Music for a Medici Pope (2010), directed by guest conductor Joshua Rifkin, was awarded a Diapason d’Or. A successful series of concerts of the Requiem of Pierre de la Rue was led by guest conductor Bo Holten. A DVD of one of these concerts, performed as part of the event Jheronimus Bosch 500, was released in 2010 under the title Bosch Requiem.
In January 2012 a new CD, containing the earliest surviving polyphonic requiem masses in music history, those by Johannes Ockeghem and Pierre de la Rue. In February 2014 the ensemble released a CD containing music written for the feast of the Assumption and transmitted in choirbooks from the Vatican, including Josquin Desprez’s masterpiece Missa Ave maris stella. In late 2015, the ensemble recorded the Missa Cum Jocunditate by Pierre de la Rue.
In 2016, Cappella and the Nederlands Kamerkoor performed eight concerts of the world premiere of the Missa Unitatis, composed in 2008 by Anthony Pitts (* 1969) in a unique partnership with choirs in Antwerp, Breda, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg and Helmond. It has also performed during the Early Music Festival in Utrecht, and presented five performances of the program Christmas with Josquin in the Season of Early Music.
Cappella Pratensis shares its vision and approach to vocal polyphony with professionals and amateurs in masterclasses, with multimedia presentations, and also in a week-long summer school that takes place annually during the festival Laus Polyphoniae in Antwerp. In a structural collaboration with the universities of Leuven and Oxford, the musical manuscripts of the workshop of Petrus Alamire are explored by musicologists and adapted for use by other musicians.
The twelve singers manage to transmit an extraordinary feeling of intimacy and conjunction, perhaps enhanced by the fact to sing from a lectern with the same score. This exceptional work brings out a forgotten gem.
The performance of Cappella Pratensis is breathtakingly beautiful. The rich polyphonic pieces where the sung texts are melismatically supported are majestic. The singers sound homogeneous in which all voices are equal and unfold like an overwhelming metier. It is fantastic that such age-old music still has such an attraction for today’s people. Especially when the music has been performed with so much love and attention, which makes the enchantment even greater.
Music Frames, 17-4-2023