Pierre de Manchicourt (c.1510-1564) is not a name that is likely to be familiar to those outside of early music circles. A new release that is likely to change this comes from MSR Classics www.msrcd.com featuring the Choir of St. Luke in the Fields, New York City www.stlukeinthefields.org/music-arts/choirs directed by David Shuler www.linkedin.com/in/david-shuler-0514445
Manchicourt was a distinctive Franco-Flemish composer born in Béthune, then in the French speaking part of Flanders, now northern France. After serving as a choirboy at Arras Cathedral he went on to become choirmaster at Tours and Tournai cathedrals before, in 1559, becoming master of Philip II’s Flemish chapel in Madrid. He was the composer of many masses, motets and Parisian chansons.
This new recording opens with Manchicourt’s motet, Reges terrae (The kings of the Earth) which moves through the female voices across the choir to form a fine tapestry, maintaining some lovely subtle rubato before coming together beautifully at the end.
Of particular interest here is the world premiere recording of Manchicourt’s Missa Reges terrae considered to have been written during the composer’s employment by Philip II. The Kyrie has a luminous opening from the female voices of Choir of St. Luke in the Fields before all join for a quite wonderful weaving of choral lines. Manchicourt brings some finely conceived layering of vocal textures, captivating the ear at every moment with so many fine harmonies and sonorities. We are taken straight into the Gloria with a fine tenor bringing the opening words Gloria in Excelcis Deo after which so many of the choir’s individual voices can be heard blending and weaving a glorious musical tapestry. They colour and lift the texts beautifully bringing some impressive moments, finding a little surge in tempo at the conclusion.
A tenor opens the Credo before Manchicourt brings some particularly fine luminous textures, so finely revealed by this choir. The ear can follow all the vocal lines such is the clarity of this choir and, indeed, the recording. There is a finely shaped Crucifixus; indeed there are so many finely shaped phrases throughout as well as some lovely textures and sonorities as the Amen is reached. The Sanctus rises beautifully after the Credo, achieving some quite lovely sonorities as this fine section moves mellifluously forward. There is a beautifully woven Benedictus from the female voices with the whole choir rising through the Hosanna. The male voices lead the second Benedictus before rising through a glorious, faster Hosanna. The Agnus Dei brings a wonderful weaving and a fine blend of these very fine voices.
The choir bring a terrific precision as the various voices join in the opening of the motet, Caro mea (My flesh) with fine textures and some particularly rich lower sonorities over which the other voices weave some lovely lines. This choir achieve some lovely subtle rises and falls before beefing up the music with Manchicourt’s distinctive change to triple metre to propel the music to its conclusion.
Ne Reminiscaris (Remember not) is an absolute gem, slowly emerging through some quite lovely passages before expanding through the choir, full of pathos, beautifully paced, with some absolutely exquisite moments, sung to perfection here.
The choir find some especially lovely harmonies in the motet, Vidi Speciosum (I saw the fair one), again with a fine ebb and flow. The layering of vocal lines allows each section of this fine choir to shine through with some beautifully nuanced singing before taking up a triple metre to speed to another fine conclusion.
The Choir of St. Luke in the Fields concludes their disc with a joyful Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven) setting a fine pace as the music moves quickly forward with some lovely weaving of vocal lines.
With a world premiere and the Choir of St. Luke in the Fields providing such fine results, this is a must for all early music buffs and surely everyone who enjoys choral music. The choir receive a top notch recording from the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York City and there are excellent notes from John Bradley who also prepared the performing editions used here. There are full Latin and English texts provided.