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GRAMOPHONE (08/2012)
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Reviewer: Caroline Gill

Measured acoustic for Brabant portrait of Willaert’s teacher

 One of the most satisfying things about watching and listening to the Brabant Ensemble evolve over the last decade has been to hear its sound become more and more easily identifiable: as with, say, The Sixthen, a few bars will usually be enough. But whereas with some groups that identity comes only from the sound, the Brabants can have an attribution pinned on them as much by the beauty of their phrasing. The way in which Stephen Rice moulds his musical arguments is uniquely detailed and quietly thoughtful, aided at least in part by the fact that this respected musicologist works from his own specially produced editions (although this does beg the question directly to him: where have the delicious false relations in Nesciens mater gone?).

Being led so unobtrusively through the musical maze of the pieces on this disc in this way completely avoids the risk so common to single-composer discs of the slightly obscure polyphony: the music never becomes boring and the sound, which is at its most crystalline in one-to-a-part performance and which sometimes teeters on the edge of sounding too big with this 16-voice group, never hardens into relentlessness but stays luminously beautiful throughout. The blend of the ensemble is too warm for that, too — especially when Rice has opted for an acoustic that is yielding but not as distractingly swimmy as the chapel of Merton College that many Oxford-based groups can sometimes misguidedly choose.

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