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GRAMOPHONE (11/2022)
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Reviewer :
Fabrice Fitch

Although Philippe van Steelant (1611-70) isn’t a household name, his pedigree is hardly insignificant: a scion of a family of musicians in Antwerp, he was the director of music in the church where Rubens was buried. This impressive and enterprising recording brings together two Requiem settings, one of which appeared in print in about 1656, and another perhaps slightly earlier, preserved in manuscript. The programme is completed by a Miserere setting, which appeared alongside the printed Requiem.

It helps that the two Requiem settings are nicely contrasted, the printed one nearer stilo antico and the manuscript one with instruments alongside the choir, reflecting the innovations of Monteverdi and his contemporaries in the realm of sacred music. To my ear, the more ‘conservative’ one is the more accomplished on its own terms, though the interaction of voices and instruments and the opulence of the ‘modern’ setting has an undoubted lustre (the instrumental interlude for bassoons and trombones is certainly a show-stealer).

For sheer gorgeousness, this recording is hard to fault: the two ensembles (both new to me) combine very effectively, and they make the most of Steelant’s undoubted dramatic touches (as in the ‘Absolve, Domine’ and ‘Dies irae’ of the manuscript version, in which the Italianate influence is especially audible). The soloists do as well as the ensemble, though the countertenors sit less well in their range than the others (a case here in favour of opting for high tenors instead, perhaps); the instrumentalists bring their shiniest colours to the table, sounding surprisingly festive given the intended liturgical destination. Flemish composers from this time and place are not nearly as prominent nowadays as their Italian or German counterparts, and this act of reclamation is thoroughly well deserved.




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