Stephen Rice’s Brabant Ensemble is a choir that closely resembles, at least in size, the kind of vocal group Palestrina would have been familiar with. Generally utilizing three singers to a part Palestrina’s polyphony is put across clearly and strongly. The documentary evidence indicates that this mass falls early in Palestrina’s career, but it is not a slight work. All of the mastery Palestrina is famous for is found in this mass.
Missa Ad coenam Agni was published in Palestrina’s first book of Mass settings, issued in 1554 by the Dorico firm of Rome. The other settings in this book (Ecce sacerdos magnus, O regem caeli, Virtute magna, and Gabriel Archangelus) are all in four parts, but this Mass derives a fifth voice canonically. The canonic interval varies between the lower and upper fifth, and is stated at several temporal distances, most frequently two or three breves. As is customary, several movements feature reduced scoring, with the canonic voice dropping out in most cases, permitting greater compositional freedom. (Stephen Rice, CD booklet)
The Mass which opens the program and the hymn that concludes it belong to Eastertide, as does everything on the program, but they are related only by using the same chant melody in the hymn verses and as cantus firmus in the Mass. The hymn is an alternatim setting with chant used for the three even-numbered verses, while the four polyphonic verses are all different, set for four voices until the final verse, the longest and most exuberant (Rice’s word) setting for five voices. The Mass is set for five voices with the Agnus Dei expanded (not unusually) to six voices. Rice suggests that the archaic mensuration devices used in the Mass indicate a young composer demonstrating his mastery, for these five Masses published in 1554 must have been composed while Palestrina was in his 20s. Mastery, indeed, is demonstrated throughout the Mass, which displays all the compositional skill of his mature Masses. (J. F. Weber, Fanfare, Sept/Oct 2013)
The added works all relate to the mass and the repertoire on this disc, while not impossible, is not readily available, especially in performances of this caliber.
Missa Ad coenam Agni: Kyrie – Stephen Rice/The Brabant Ensemble
Missa Ad coenam Agni & Eastertide motets
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice (conductor)
The Brabant Ensemble, better known for uncovering works by forgotten composers such as Dominique de Phinot, turns to a giant of the Renaissance—perhaps the most celebrated name of the period. Yet within Palestrina’s huge output there are many hidden gems, lacking both recordings and modern performing editions, and it is from among these that the ensemble’s director Stephen Rice has chosen the repertoire for this album. A Mass—Missa Ad coenam Agni, from Palestrina’s first book of Mass-settings—is included, plus antiphons, motets and five Eastertide Offertories. Each work is, as Stephen Rice states in his typically informative booklet notes, ‘a finely crafted addition to the liturgy’.