For performers, the music of Orlando di Lasso can be a bit of a mystery.
"The scores have neither tempo nor dynamic markings and it is not always clear which lines are suited to which voice," explains Andrew McAnerney, artistic director of the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (SMAM). Their new album, Orlando di Lasso: Laudate Dominum (due out March 24 on ATMA Classique), is a deep dive into the Renaissance composer's sacred motets.
"Taking care to understand the words and their relation to the music usually provides a clear idea of how the piece should sound," McAnerney says.
This new album, McAnerney's first with the choir, was conceived and planned by the late Christopher Jackson, the founding artistic director of SMAM who died in 2015. "Christopher loved Lasso and after the success of SMAM's [all-Lasso] Lagrime di San Pietro CD, he prepared this album, first heard as a concert in SMAM's 2014-15 season," notes McAnerney. "This recording is dedicated to Christopher, and continues his legacy of bringing lesser-known masterpieces to a new generation of listeners."
Compared to his better-known contemporary, Giovanni da Palestrina, Lasso was a firebrand. "The music of Lasso uses more daring harmonic language and puts a greater emphasis on painting the text with the music," reflects McAnerney. "Lasso uses the same dramatic gestures in his sacred and secular works — the CD includes musical depictions of dancing, weeping, laughing, war and peace."
"Christopher asked me once whether I thought Palestrina or Lasso was the greatest composer," McAnerney adds. "I said Palestrina; I was wrong."
Highlights on the album include two extraordinary double-choir motets: "Dixit Martha ad Jesum" and "Mira loqour sed digna fide." "The first, a discussion between Jesus and Martha, where Jesus reveals his true nature," says McAnerney. "The second, a lesson from St. Bernard (from beyond the grave) to a pupil." They're performed here by minimal forces — 13 singers (four sopranos, three altos, three tenors and three basses) — which presents challenges of tuning and ensemble. "But in this regard we are fortunate to have a group of very talented, musically minded singers with excellent voices," McAnerney points out. They're abetted by the beautiful acoustic of the Chapelle du Grand Séminaire de Montréal.
In addition to launching this new album and preparing two more concerts this spring, SMAM is currently running a crowdfunding campaign in support of its planned concert tour of France and England in September.
"We are taking SMAM to Europe to share some of the early music history of Canada in this anniversary year — Montréal's 375th and Canada's 150th," explains McAnerney. "The touring program explores sacred music from the 17th century, including the earliest work known to have been composed in New France ("Prose de la Sainte-Famille"), works brought by the early settlers and music written and adapted by Jesuit missionaries. We are also re-releasing SMAM’s definitive recording of the repertoire: Musique sacrée en Nouvelle-France."
Orlando di Lasso: Laudate Dominum will be released on March 24. You can pre-order the album here.