La Rue: Missa Inviolata

La Rue: Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor / Missa Inviolata
Brabant Ensemble - Stephen Rice
Hyperion 68150

The Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor has an appealing rhythmic vigor to it, but doesn't rise to the level of being one of La Rue's great works for me, even if it might be said to represent his Spanish influence. However, as reflected in the way I've titled this entry, the Missa Inviolata does strike me as a special piece. Although it's so richly detailed that some authors consider much of the writing inaudible, its shifting textures make a striking addition to La Rue's discography — here in a first recording. Indeed, this mass cycle takes on a rather personal devotional character.

The Salve regina & Magnificat settings are also of some merit, and indeed the Magnificat is the most appealing on the disc in terms of performance decisions. (They also bring to mind the double album by Viva Voce, a larger vocal ensemble that tackled all of La Rue's Magnificats about ten years ago, but only three of his Salve Reginas. The relations among his six settings of the latter remain somewhat mysterious.)

Regarding the interpretation, this ensemble has been oriented toward somewhat later music, and generally takes a more "Renaissance" or even Counter-Reformation style to performance. It seems relatively out of place in the older Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor & Salve Regina, but quite affective in the more sparking Magnificat sexti toni, and effective enough in the Missa Inviolata. The performance effect is also one of distance, but that distance does bring some precision with it, even if there's some reductionism involved to presenting individual sections in one dramatic sweep. Although I'm convinced that some of the performance decisions would not have been welcome in La Rue's actual time & place, just a few decades later (in terms of style), his music remains robust against a changed backdrop. In that sense, this interpretation, more modern than I typically prefer, illustrates the versatility & depth of La Rue's output.

What is perhaps most surprising about the album is that I find myself singling out yet another La Rue mass cycle for special attention. However, despite some initial misgivings about the performance, as articulated above, this disc has been increasingly enjoyable.

To renaissance sacred list

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 19 September 2016