Album title: Philippe Rogier Polychoral Works
Performers: Magnificat with Philip Cave and His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts
Label: Linn Records - SACD CKD348 (also available as FLAC, WMA and MP3 downloads)
Playing time: 73’16"

Philippe Rogier’s career in the 16th century was nothing short of spectacular. Coming from Flanders he prematurely died at 35 after being chapel master to king Philip II in Madrid for a decade. Over this short period Rogier composed over 250 pieces but significant portions were lost or destroyed in fires and incidents over the years. What remains paints the picture of a composer bridging the gigantic chasm between his native country’s dense and severe polyphonic tradition and the budding yet already flamboyant Spanish baroque.

Philippe Cave and his Magnificat Ensemble give us two masses in this recording, each offering a blend of styles representative of those extremes Rogier tried to bridge. The first is Domine Dominus noster for 12 voices. It shows the stronger baroque influence with numerous accompaniments by cornets, sagbutts and lutes intertwined in the vocal composition and a greater diversity of rhythms and breaks in the monotonous polyphony. Whether part of the composition and the reflection of an emerging but not quite yet mastered style or a choice of interpretation by Philip Cave, the orchestral parts have at time a tendency to overpower and overwhelm the choral elements.

The second mass Domine in Vitute tua was inspired by a motet by Palestrina. It offers far greater balance in that regard and an even greater diversity and complexity of tonal colors without instruments taking over when the voices should. That makes it the more elaborate of the two works at least for my taste. The recording concludes with two responsories Verbum caro factum est and Videntes stellam magi, composed for Christmas Day and Epiphany respectively and both scored for twelve voices. Those shorter pieces heavily play with contrast effects between the three choirs and underlining accompaniment from instruments including the organ (and possibly up to three organs as the Basilica where the works were performed had three instruments) to provide the most lively and colorful music on the disc. This is a spectacular disc documenting the progressive transformation of polyphony into baroque through compositions by one of the most critical actors of this evolution. Not necessarily the easiest music to comprehend and enjoy, it does require time and commitment to really dive into the polychoral fabric of the music but is well worth the effort.