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A Voice from Heaven

 

When some of Australia’s finest consort singers and most skilled composers enter into a dialogue with the recently resurrected sacred works of a Flemish Renaissance composer, fireworks are bound to explode. This unique disc and its extraordinary music draws the listener into a sensuous world where past and present dissolve and the sacred and the secular become one. This is music that reaches out to your soul and envelopes you in its embrace. 

 

- Michael Noone, Musicologist and choral director

Read a feature in Limelight Magazine

Download the PDF booklet

About the recording

 

While singers and choirs were silenced during COVID-19 lockdowns, Sydney composer and singer, Brooke Shelley, devised a project for a group of singing colleagues when restrictions lifted. The project was to record music by Pierre de Manchicourt (c.1510–1564), a prolific and — in his day — highly regarded member of the so-called ‘lost generation’ of Franco-Flemish compossers between Josquin des Prez and Orlande de Lassus, whose uniquely beautiful music fell into unjustified obscurity in the late sixteenth century and has only in recent decades been rediscovered and appreciated anew. 

Inspired by her friend and singer Andrew Fysh, who is producing his own modern performing editions of Manchicourt’s music under the title RESOLUT editions, Brooke approached Andrew to propose a selection of works to record. 

 

Over the course of four days during the height of a hot and humid Sydney summer, Queen’s Phoenix — eight of the finest ensemble singers in Australia, who have variously sung with each other over the years — gathered in a small College chapel to record a selection of Manchicourt’s music and two new Australian works inspired by Manchicourt’s motets. 

The point of this project was not to over-produce a perfect audio recording: it was about bringing colleagues together after months of being prevented from singing (and consequently, from earning an income) and to immerse them in beautiful, stunning music from the sixteenth century — providing much-needed spiritual and emotional nourishment — and to be muses for new choral works by David Drury and Brooke Shelley. In addition to these two new Australian works, five of the ten Manchicourt motets presented in this release are world-premiere recordings.

 

This project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW, and was recorded in St Paul’s College Chapel, within the University of Sydney, by kind permission of the Warden and Chaplain.

It was recorded by Richard Hundy, mastered by Simon Gibson at Abbey Road Studios.

About the performers

 

Queen's Phoenix is a group of friends brought together specifically for this project. The singers (and conductor, and recording engineer, and graphic designer) are all accomplished musicians in their own right.  

Anna Sandstrom (soprano)

Brooke Shelley (soprano)

Natalie Shea (alto)

Derek Ward (countertenor)

Richard Butler (tenor)

Richard Black (tenor)

Andrew O'Connor (bass-baritone)

Andrew Fysh (bass)

David Drury (conductor)

Richard Hundy (recording engineer)

Matt Roberts (graphic designer)

Review in Limelight Magazine

 

A Voice From Heaven (Queen’s Phoenix)

Engaging Sydney singers widen our knowledge of Renaissance polyphony.

4 out of 5 stars

by Tony Way on 27 October, 2021

In a classic tale of choirboy-made-good, Pierre de Manchicourt (c. 1510-64) rose from the rank of chorister at Arras Cathedral to become master of Philip II’s Flemish chapel in Madrid. Along the way he not only impressed ecclesiastical and diplomatic dignitaries, but also his artistic peers. Rabelais numbered him among the most important musicians of the era, along with Willaert, Gombert, Janequin and Arcadelt. Lassus regarded him as a “distinguished and excellent composer,” while two of the most influential music printers of the age, Attaingnant and Phalèse, published volumes of his works.

Despite these accolades, Manchincourt has long remained a footnote in music history, the reforms of the Council of Trent having rendered his intricate polyphony passé. Thankfully, some of his motets have been transcribed by Sydney singer Andrew Fysh, who helps anchor the firm bass line of Queen’s Phoenix, a roundup of some of the usual suspects from the high end of Sydney’s choral scene. 

Under the direction of David Drury, the singers bring energy and empathy to their task. Take, for instance, Veniat dilectus meus, a setting of verses from the Song of Songs, where the words “be inebriated, O dearly beloved” excite a certain giddy abandon. Added to the composer’s frequent use of false relations (those bump-and-grind dissonances common in earlier Renaissance works), the music is imbued with a uniquely appealing blend of earthly and heavenly elements.

In addition to ten Manchincourt motets (five of which receive first recordings here), Drury and fellow Sydney composer Brooke Shelley have contributed new eight-voice works responding to eponymous Manchincourt settings. Shelley’s Emendemus in melius deploys stylish technique to produce a texturally varied soundscape, showing the singers off to great advantage; while Drury’s Audivi vocem de caelo capitalises on rich harmonies and contrasting lines to summon up a celestial vision.

Well recorded and engagingly annotated, these committed Australian performances are a most welcome contribution to our wider understanding of the fascinating byways of Renaissance music.