OBRECHT Missa Maria Zart

Missa Maria zart
Cappella Pratensis / Stratton Bull
Challenge Classics CC72933

Described by my colleague Fabrice Fitch as ‘one of renaissance music’s hidden gems’ I think it’s now true to say this mass is finally out in the open. This new release from Ensemble Pratensis is one of those rare, landmark albums that offers a striking alternative performance of a piece already afforded a major entry in the catalogue from The Tallis scholars (CDGIM032) as well as Beauty Farm (reviewed Gramophone 09/19) and the venerable Prague Madrigal Singers (1969 Supraphon). As such we now have a range of approaches to help us know better this extraordinary polyphonic behemoth.

Cappella Pratensis use lower male voices (the top line sung by countertenors, as with Beauty Farm), Germanic pronunciation, and read from a specially commissioned choirbook which demands they stand in close formation. The result is a warm huddle of sound, more intimate than grand. Framing the mass with the monophonic lied which forms the cantus firmus, and two polyphonic settings further increases a sense of intimacy with this material before it is broken up into intriguing segments by Obrecht which ebb and flow stylishly in this polished performance.


The Credo has a more exciting energy although Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostram salutem skates along too impatiently for my liking, but I love the superb change of texture at ... et vitam venturi seculi and it’s here the large-scale planning of this performance is most apparent. This new release is a happy marriage of musicality and musicology.

To read the full text of this review: Gramophone June 2023


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