Obrecht: Missa Maria zart

Obrecht: Missa Maria zart
Cappella Pratensis - Stratton Bull
Challenge Classics 72933

The Missa Maria zart is the longest & most elaborate in Obrecht's output, perhaps the most voluminous mass cycle of its era in general. More so than a contrapuntal encyclopedia per se though, it interrogates a monophonic melody through a variety of (often simultaneous) mensurations & metric shifts, forging an ongoing kaleidocope of varying textual-lyrical nuance: Apparently the goal was to permeate the form with the popular song, the hearing of which was said to convey magical benefits to the listener.... (Other Obrecht cycles can be much more subtle in how they present their cantus firmuses, but individual treatment of the different cantus firmuses is indeed an Obrecht hallmark, something he made seem easy.)

It's thus of unique value, although I've never been entirely sure if it's one of my favorite pieces.... It's especially fascinating to hear in this performance, though. (However, although the included motets do provide some interesting context, neither does much for me. Maybe that makes Obrecht only that much more impressive.... His mass cycle makes up the vast bulk of the program anyway.)

And Cappella Pratensis has been around for a long time, but this is a new direction for them, much more concerned with the technical details of the music than the (e.g. spiritual) setting. The attention to mensuration details is then captivating & revelatory, apparently involving extended work familiarizing themselves with this mass over the course of a few years. Theirs is still more of a "cool" interpretation, not brimming with passion (pace Beauty Farm's of course), but the precision rewards close attention for the listener, taking the simultaneous articulation of Obrecht's long & sinuous lines to another level of sophistication....

So although the singing is generally done three-to-a-part (in keeping with at least some contemporary situations), there's also a lightness, an overall sense of pleasing individual vocal tone, to the proceedings. The result is really a notable recording of the music for this era in general, beyond Obrecht per se & this mass. A new era of clear & direct articulation dawns, perhaps....

To renaissance sacred list.

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 24 April 2023