None of these splendid and infinitely beautiful works by Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505-1557) is otherwise available on disk at present. The standard of singing on this, the first of two volumes of his works, by the Church of the Advent Choir, Boston, Massachusetts with conductors Edith Ho and Mark Dwyer is as high as it always is with those performers. Anyone familiar with Crecquillon, or who loves Renaissance choral polyphony but doesn't know the composer's work need not hesitate: this is a superb CD and will delight in every way.
Crecquillon's history is an odd one. Extremely prolific, he was best known during his lifetime for his sacred choral music, a selection of which is presented here. And very well and widely known he certainly was. Contemporary accounts of musicians do more than suggest that he was as highly considered as anyone else working at the time. And not merely because of his associations with the powerful and dominating Charles V. It's obvious that Crecquillon, born in what is now the Netherlands and so of the Franco-Flemish school probably in 1505, had remarkable gifts for writing equally powerful, expansive and dramatic polyphony, though with a grace and élan that prefigure Palestrina while building on the tighter imitative practices of Josquin.
From the moment you start to listen to this CD (the Mass "Domine Deus omnipotens" follows the lengthy motet on which it is based) you will be struck by Crecquillon's great command of line and texture – both of which he uses to great effect in conveying devotional certainty yet personal humility. A heart that's sacred without being on anyone's sleeve. There is no sense of (false) piety or aloofness. His Mass – and the motet, Dum deambularet Dominus [tr.9], in particular speak for themselves – as examples of what a fervent believer can achieve.
The Choir here has also achieved a level and precision of articulation that communicates all such force and commitment, though based on reflection and self-knowledge (by Crecquillon). Yet one which is not exclusive to believers. They have also approached this recording with – and succeeded in – the aim of producing accounts of Crecquillon which expose his qualities as a composer of fluent, fluid yet not florid polyphony of the greatest beauty. Each of the other motets has something to recommend it, is exquisitely conceived and executed yet somehow presents a different aspect of Crecquillon's creativity.
With all its strengths there is also a great delicacy in the way Crecquillon matched music to text: listen to the end of the Credo of the Mass [tr.4], for example. It's tender, subtle and sensitive; the Choir's relationship with it is a perfect mixture of intimacy and demonstration. Just what's needed for us to take Crecquillon on his own terms. As the extremely accomplished composer he is – for all his neglect, and (one expects) for all the attention he will attract as his music becomes better known. An understanding of the way Crecquillon worked at the court of Charles V ought to help with this contextualization: he was required to produce music for most occasions and so would have had to draw on a flexibility and set of competences matched only by the imagination which is so evident in these performances.
Though Crecquillon's name is not one of the best known of his generation, one suspects that with recordings like these it will become so. Exemplary in every way, this CD with a brief introductory essay and the Latin and English texts was recorded in the usual, sympathetic acoustic of the Choir's own church in Boston. It should not be overlooked, as a key recording of this compelling repertoire.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Sealey