Jacobus VAET (c. 1529-1567)
Dufay Ensemble/Eckehard Kiem
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95365 [4 CDs: 224:50]
Brilliant Classics are to be congratulated for their many compilations of earlier recordings. The individual CDs which make up this set were originally available individually on Ars Musici at full price. It is invaluable to have all these works as a single set, for less than the price of a single full-price CD, especially as Vaet is a composer so worthy of exploration.
William Boyce said of Handel: “He takes other men’s pebbles and polishes them into diamonds.” Handel was – in days when no copyright existed – always happy to seize on a good tune and work with it in his own music. If anything, this is even more true of Vaet: he would take popular tunes and use them in themes in his religious and secular works. In days before recording, this makes sense, as it is so much easier to pick up and follow the familiar when listening either in court or church.
Vaet was Kappelmeister, from the age of 24, to Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who would become Emperor in 1564. His background was as a chorister and singer, but he was clearly a composer of substance. An interesting feature of his music is the quality of word-setting. He seems not to treat polyphony as an end in itself, but as secondary to its purpose, whether of adoration or, as in the final piece in this set, the praise of a secular ruler.
The titles of each CD refer to the main work, but each represents a variety of music. For example, the Marian Ave, maris stella (‘Hail, Star of the Sea’), a most unfunereal work, appears on the first disc. The Salve Regina disc contains three secular motets in praise of the Hapsburg dynasty. Perhaps most enjoyable are the six Gospel motets on the final disc - the word-setting in Dum steteritis is an example, with the phrase ‘in illa hora’ (‘in that hour’) repeated like a church clock as a reminder of temporality.
Overall, then, this set is one which will interest anyone who loves the music of Palestrina or Gombert, and extends our knowledge of sixteenth century music, as well as of an under-represented and underrated figure.
Performances are good, but not perhaps outstanding, yet they will give much satisfaction. They are voice-to-a-part, which is fine for clarity and ensemble, but perhaps not altogether authentic (Vaet had around 70 singers at his disposal). Recording quality is acceptable, though there is no information about the recording venues.
If all that is wanted is a single CD of Vaet, Missa Ego flos campi, performed by Cinqucento (Hyperion CDA 67733), (also voice-to-a-part) would be my first choice, but there is so much in this new compilation to delight.