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40 Voices [Hybrid SACD]
Huelgas Ensemble
40 Voices [Hybrid SACD]
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #1

This dazzling CD offers huge Renaissance pieces performed by the always spectacular Huelgas Ensemble under Paul van Nevel. The taste for complex polyphony was at its peak in the late 16th century. The Italian composer Ales...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Huelgas Ensemble
Title: 40 Voices [Hybrid SACD]
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Harmonia Mundi Fr.
Original Release Date: 1/1/2007
Re-Release Date: 2/13/2007
Album Type: Hybrid SACD - DSD, Import
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Chamber Music, Historical Periods, Baroque (c.1600-1750), Classical (c.1770-1830)
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 794881818662

This dazzling CD offers huge Renaissance pieces performed by the always spectacular Huelgas Ensemble under Paul van Nevel. The taste for complex polyphony was at its peak in the late 16th century. The Italian composer Alessandro Striggio amazed the civilized world with a motet in 40 parts, driving the Englishman Thomas Tallis to compose one even more complex in the same number of parts to honor Queen Elizabeth. It still hasn't been surpassed in formality and stringent creativity. Other works on this CD are a Gloria by Gomez in 12 parts, a Qui habitat by Desprez in 24 voices, and a lush 16-part work by Giovanni Gabrieli, among others. Van Nevel and his group (and the superb engineers) keep every line clear, with round tone balanced throughout all the vocal ranges, with the long, melodic lines flowing so naturally that the listener never gets lost. The Desprez reminds me of some works by Antoine Brumel, with imitation so close and frequent that the effect is that of a pulsating organism. The CD opens with a 35-voice piece by the contemporary composer Willem Ceuleers (a member of the Huelgas Ensemble, born in 1963), and while its harmonies certainly are not Renaissance, it is in spirit the kind of polyphony on the rest of the CD. Perhaps listening to this 71-minute CD in one sitting would be too rich; it's a feast to be savored. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

Exceeded Expectations. Huelgas Ensemble and Paul Van Nevel a
Sumella | 08/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Now, this is what I call Brilliance! The Best performance from the Best Ensemble, the Best recording from the Best label Harmonia Mundi. Thanks to the high quality standards maintained by Harmonia Mundi, this recording is so far the highest resolution we have heard.

Buy this with confidence!"
Beautiful performances...but why repeat so much material?
Maddy Evil | London, UK | 12/03/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Taken from live performances in celebration of the Huelgas Ensemble's 35th birthday in 2005, this CD is both beautifully executed and attractively presented. Programmatically, it is rewarding too, drawing together numerous large-scale polyphonic masterpieces from the Renaissance and placing them alongside a newly commissioned work by Willem Ceuleers, a bass in the Huelgas Ensemble, written in 35 parts (i.e. one voice part for each year).

So why only 3 stars...?

My only real gripe with this recording - although admittedly, it is significant - lies in the fact that it features four works which have already appeared in virtually identical interpretations on a previous recording by the Huelgas Ensemble (Utopia Triumphans, Sony SK 66261, recorded 1995): they are

3. Josquin - "Qui habitat"
5. Striggio - "Ecce beatam lucem"
8. Gabrieli - "Exaudi me Domine"
9. Tallis - "Spem in alium".

In all, this equates to a total of nearly half the CD, both in terms of the number of pieces performed (4 out of 9) and in terms of the total duration (nearly 30 minutes out of 62)!

This observation is all the more bewildering (or even lamentable?) given that there are many other large-scale Renaissance works which could have been performed in their place - these include the 19-voice motet "O bone Jesu" by Robert Carver (c.1484-1567); the 12-part canon "Iste est speciosa" by Mathieu Gascongne (fl.1513-18); a 20-part canon by Giovanni Maria Nanino (c.1543-1607); the magnificent setting of "Duo Seraphim" by Francisco Guerrero (1528-99) for three 4-part choirs; and countless works in the Venetian polychoral style by Gabrieli and his lesser known contemporaries (such as Antonio Cifra [1584-1629], whose "Litanie Deiparae virginis" of 1613 includes motets for up to 12 voices). The greatest tragedy of this is that many of these works have, to my knowledge, never been recorded before. So in all, they have missed a real opportunity here!

In sum, those who do not possess either this CD or the above-mentioned Utopia Triumphans are strongly recommended to purchase at least one of these recordings! Whether or not you feel it is worth investing in both rather depends on the extent to which 85 minutes of music for the price of 2 CDs seems like good value for money...