Reviews

Excerpts from Reviews of "Orlande de LASSUS (1532-1594) Le nozze in Baviera: Music for the Wedding of Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine," Naxos 8.579063, January - February, 2021

"This appears to be Ensemble Origo’s recording debut; if so, it’s an auspicious one from a versatile and accomplished ensemble, equally at home in sacred and secular music. ... I doubt that a direct rival to this very varied collection is likely to appear any time soon. In any case, the individual pieces are all competitive, each in its own right. ... When the second work, Gratia sola Dei, ... was published ... its suitability for instrumental accompaniment was specifically mentioned. We know, however, that the second part was sung a cappella by ‘four select voices’ who sang so sweetly that the diners paused to listen with food in their mouths and the servants dared not move. ... [T]hat’s a steep challenge for the modern performers. The ensemble rise to the occasion, but it’s perhaps not surprising that I can’t find any other recording that attempts it. ... This Naxos release...is very enjoyable."  —Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International [Link to full review]

"The 1568 wedding of Albrecht's son and heir … called for a sumptuous celebration — one that was to last [a] full 18 days, in fact! In 1569, Massimo Troiano published a description of this matrimonial marathon. From this, musicologist and director of Ensemble Origo, Eric Rice, has posited a sequence of music, including episodes of 'improvised comedy' …. The disc actually originated from Rice's curiosity about the moresca, an Italian form that caricatures Black Africans: Rice exhibits great self-awareness and honesty in his booklet commentary as he explains his viewpoint inevitably comes from a white, privileged standpoint. … That 'supper motet' is Gratia sola Dei, a piece apparently so beautiful it stopped people in the very act of eating itself! ... It is actually a piece of the utmost beauty, performed with real understanding by the Ensemble Origo. ... The disc's journey from religiosity to bawdiness is both involving and fascinating." —"Lassus' matrimonial marathon: Le nozzle in Baviera," Colin Clarke, Classical Explorer [link to full review]

"With Rice's reflections on the racial aspects of this burlesque occasion (the physical album booklet is recommended here, although it is also available online), American listeners will realize how deeply the impulse of the minstrel show was embedded in European culture before Americans ever started putting on blackface. The final section of the program makes up a commedia dell'arte sketch, less sexual and minus the racial aspect, but with plenty of double entendre. Rice has done a service by putting all of this music by Lassus (there is one song by Fillippo Azzaiolo) together and exposing the various sides of his output, which coexisted within the realm of a single culture. One might object that his Ensemble Origo, although it sounds fine in the sacred pieces, might attempt a bit more raucousness in the secular ones, but Rice has really attempted something quite new here, and listeners who have perhaps heard Jordi Savall's recordings exploring the European periphery will be interested to find an edgier take on it in this recording." 4.5 out of 5 Stars.  — James Manheim, AllMusic.com [Link to full review]

"One of the intriguing offerings from NAXOS CLASSICS at the start of 2021 is a collection of Renaissance vocal music by one of the most famous composers in 16th century Europe ... Performing in both vocal and vocal-instrumental settings for 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8 voices and blending the voices with the instrumental ensemble the Ensemble Origo stylishly brings [this music] to life." — "Review: Wedding Music from 1568," by Rafael de Acha, All About the Arts, January 6, 2021  [Link to full review]

Excerpt from Review of "Motets, Madrigals, and Moresche" (later released in recording as "Orlande de LASSUS (1532-1594) Le nozze in Baviera: Orlando di Lasso's Music for the Wedding of Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine") 

"There was little lofty poetry among the texts, save for a setting of a stanza of Petrarch’s 'Canzoniere,' 'If my weary lines can fly so high as to reach her,' set in elegant five-part harmony and performed with cool poise and accuracy by the Origo singers. But that text only threw into relief the bawdiness of the surrounding material, most of which might be summed up under the title 'If my leering lines can swoop so low as to breach her.'  ... The Origo singers, capably led by the ensemble’s director, Eric Rice, and sometimes accompanied on period instruments by a fine, flexible ensemble, for the most part maintained straight faces and a clean, almost prudish, style. One might have wished for a greater differentiation between the chiffony sound with which they sang the beautiful Te Deum and the one they brought to commedia dell’arte numbers like 'Matona, mia cara,' a ribald sendup of a German lancer (nudge, nudge) who applies all his nation’s proverbial diligence and phonetic inflexibility to the task of serenading an Italian lady."  — "Review: Ensemble Origo, Doing the Lowbrow with Dignity," by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times, October 9, 2015 [Link to full review]

Excerpts from Reviews of "Luther's Deutsche Messe," September, 2017

“Luther himself had a strong musical connection, and I determined to use the 2017 milestone to try to come to terms with this side of him through reading and listening. To prepare for my pilgrimage to Minnesota, I attended several Reformation concerts in New York. An especially fine one in September, by the Connecticut-based Ensemble Origo, offered a hypothetical reconstruction of Luther’s German Mass of about 1530, built on a ‘Missa de Beata Virgine’ by Josquin des Prez, one of his favorite composers.” —James Oestreich, "500 Years Later, the Reformation Is Still Creating Music," The New York Times, November 23, 2017  [Link to article]

"I leave it to the scholars to assess the accuracy or representativeness of the collected works; aesthetically, it rose to top-notch. The alternation of style engaged our intellect, and Rice’s essay enriched the experience. The immaculate execution positively glowed. Within the constraints of the genre and time, the Ensemble worked with a wide-ranging palette: the “Nu freut euch” of Walter especially radiant, the delivery of the Gospel (John 12:31-36, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out”) dark and heavy. With no more than two voices to a part, the intimate chapel at Old South swelled with gorgeously proportioned sound. The singers projected dramatically, and fully realized complexities in all their horizontality and verticality. Soothing but not lulling, richly textured while tasteful and understated, this deep immersion in Luther’s realm fully satisfied."  — Brian Schuth, The Boston Musical Intelligencer,  September 18, 2017 [Link to full review]

"With their clean, pure tones and taut harmonies, the ensemble of eight a cappella singers, led by Ensemble Origo’s director, Eric Rice, offered a vivid and moving account of early-Lutheran adoration. ... The four selections by Josquin were the clear standout of the evening, with the ensemble executing the complex, textured polyphony with seeming ease. The singers created a balanced and elegant vocal blend while also masterfully executing the composer’s florid, ornamented lines. The “Sanctus” was especially moving, as soprano Sarah Moyer’s light, shimmering tone floated above the group with angelic lyricism. ...  All in all, the performance was fairly brief; however, in that short time, the Ensemble Origo not only offered a superb performance of sublime early music, they succeeded in resurrecting the past in a uniquely ear-opening way."  — "Liturgical Time Machine: Ensemble Origo performs Luther's Deutsche Messe," by Christopher Browner, Academy of Sacred Drama Journal, September 20, 2017 [Link to full review]

“In fact there is all the fun, frolicking and abandon of a wedding — especially one lasting as long as this one did… at least a fortnight. So the guests (here the performers of Ensemble Origo) realise that they had better behave themselves and hold their drink, and temper their abandon with lucidity and a measure of decorum which mustn’t sound too reluctant. The performers here get this just right. … Yet throughout it is the Moor, the Black man of Bornu … who bear(s) the brunt of the stereotyping, caricature and lampooning. Rice explains that he in no way endorses or implies uncritical advocacy of the way these texts were used by Lassus. On the contrary, the tone set by the singers of Ensemble Origo exposes and explores an aspect of music-making which we shall never come to understand unless we are discerning enough to be familiar with it and its racism. They approach the idiom with equal sensitivity, never add spurious ‘humour’ for effect, and are as ‘straight’ as they need to be for us to enter a world where such tropes had something in common with the (at least implicit) stereotyping of Othello and Shylock a generation later. …  The result is a compelling collection lasting just over an hour. Specifically, the longest and weightiest work is placed at the start. Then the performers show how and why Lassus is to be credited with a musical perception that must in large part have been the result of his travels and wide experiences in a variety of musical milieux. They do so through attention to detail, precise phrasing, clean enunciation, and accurate pronunciation (of 16th-century Italian, for example). Significantly, Ensemble Origo never overdoes innuendo or pastiche. It is this happy set of qualities — as well as the frankness of the way in which the moresca tradition is approached — that make this such an appealing CD.” —Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International [Link to full review]

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