Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Songs and Sighs of the Renaissance - Paul van Nevel

A concert given in the Chapel of the Knights of Malta, St Petersburg as part of the 2009 St Petersburg Early Music Festival
29th September 2009
Huelgas Ensemble
cond: Paul van Nevel

Matheus de Sancto Johanne (ca. 1350-before 1391): Science n'a nul ennemi
Alexander Agricola (1446-1506): Agnus Dei from the Missa In minen syn à 4
Nicolas Gombert (ca.1495-ca.1560): Je prens congie de mes amours à 8
Thomas Ashewell (ca.1478-after 1513): Agnus Dei from the Missa Ave Maria à 6
Pierre de Manchicourt (1510-1564): Faulte d'argent à 8
Cipriano de Rore (1515-1565): Mon petit coeur à 8
Antoine Brumel (ca.1460-1512): Agnus Dei from the Missa Et ecce terre motus à 6

Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants selon Paul van Nevel:
2001 documentary (in French) by Sandrine Willems
Running time: 52'

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, polyphony flourished in Flanders and France; this music reveals the harmony man was searching for in Gothic flamboyance or astrological dreams. Steeped in this Renaissance sensibility, the conductor Paul van Nevel resurrects this beautiful music while meditating on the landscape where it was born. Sharing the taste for earthiness and melancholy of the Renaissance, van Nevel has performed the music of that era for many years. Researching forgotten compositions in libraries, insisting on studying the original scores, which already determine their interpretation, this cantor of curiosity also investigates the concrete life of Renaissance man.

He thus recreates a world where time was slower, though life was shorter, where the dead watched over the living, where dreams reigned supreme, where children imagined mountains and marvels out of nothing, where long journeys began, where 'landscape' was invented. And van Nevel, contemplating the Franco-Flemish landscapes where all the major polyphonists originated, finds the same forms in their compositions; thanks to him, hills and valleys suddenly begin to sing Gombert, Lassus and Manchicourt, and we become once again the dreamers of another age.

Interviews with Paul Van Nevel, Marie-Claude Vallin, Ignace Bossuyt, François Sabatier, Philippe Contamine.
Excerpts from Dufay, Lassus, Desprez, Agricola, Minami, Gombert, Pipelare, Richafort, performed by the Huelgas Ensemble.

Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants - Part 1/6
Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants - Part 2/6
Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants - Part 3/6
Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants - Part 4/6
Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants - Part 5/6
Chants et Soupirs des Renaissants - Part 6/6

Anyone who in the seventies had the privilege of attending one of the first concerts with Paul van Nevel's fledgling Huelgas Ensemble's group is still talking about it today. Two words come to mind: awe and ecstasy. The ensemble has persisted over more than three decades. The shock of hearing this old music, an echo of several hundred years ago which sounds new and strange to us, should, in theory, decline over time. But it has not. The reason being that the Huelgas Ensemble do not want to leave the public stage. Again and again they revitalise the work of these previously unknown masters. Van Nevel and his singers have never tired, the audience that hears them for the first time is never bored and always happy.

A few years ago, reviewing their first concert in New York, the newspaper Newsday spoke of a "perfectly tuned instrument" and also mentioned that New York finally understood what it had been missing all those years. The New York Times described the concert as "simply superb." From the U.S. to Japan similar words of praise are heard, and, of course, throughout Europe: Saintes, Brussels, Lille, Klagenfurt, Évora and elsewhere.

Paul van Nevel is sometimes considered a musical detective, a Hercule Poirot or Inspector Morse, spending half his time hunting in libraries; thanks to his study of centuries-old manuscripts names such as Nicolas Gombert, Claude Le Jeune, Johannes Ciconia, Pierre de Manchicourt and many others have been liberated from the closed circle of a few specialised musicologists. His research has also contributed to the incisive scholarly precision with which the Huelgas Ensemble performs music. Their interpretations reflect a broad knowledge of musical concepts prevalent during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Needless to say, van Nevel is familiar with early musical notation and texts. But he does not end there; he also places the music in the cultural and intellectual context of the period in which it was created. He investigates, among other things, the four humours, for example in the case of the great medieval scholastic Albertus Magnus, and classical rhetoric, in conjunction with the teatro della memoria of the Italian humanist Giulio Camillo Delmimio. He also takes into account the prevailing literature of the period in which his chosen composers lived.

What is very distinctive of the Huelgas Ensemble is their extraordinary purity of sound. Each of the twelve voices is clearly heard, and thus simultaneously contribute to a harmonious symphony that is sometimes powerful, sometimes delicate, and often passionate. The Huelgas Ensemble sounds like a combination of heaven and earth. Not surprisingly, van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble have been showered with awards. The Caecilia Prijs of the Belgian musical press, the Choc de l'Année of Le Monde de la Musique, the Edison Award, the Cannes Classical Award in early music, the Prix in Honorem of the Académie Charles Cros, an honorary award from European Union Radio and also from Canadian Radio are just some of the awards in a list that is far from complete. In addition, admirers of Renaissance music are almost certainly guaranteed to have dozens of the Huelgas Ensemble's albums in their collection. The ensemble has recorded extensively with the Sony Classics label (in the collection Vivarte) and Harmonia Mundi France.

Something moves inside us very time the Huelgas Ensemble breaks the silence. It is not at all surprising or extraordinary, but evokes deep humility, nostalgia and without doubt a deep respect and admiration for the beauty of the strangely familiar musical treasures offered by Europe. This music comes to life from the moment the creative soul Paul van Nevel discovers it to when he applies his masterly finishing touches.

Geert van Istendael (Belgian writer, essayist and music lover)

(Translation: A Curran)

Paul van Nevel talks (in Flemish) about Rolande de Lassus's Lagrime di San Pietro (The tears of St Peter) :

Interview (in Flemish) with Paul van Nevel at the 2009 Jewish Cultural Festival in Antwerp:

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