George de la Hèle: Missa Praeter Rerum Seriem
By James Manheim – ALL MUSIC

Like other southern European courts, the Habsburgs in Iberia hired Flemish composers as well as native talent for their church music. This repertory has been generally neglected, not for any reasons of quality, but because much of it was destroyed in a pair of natural disasters, the Great Fire of Madrid in 1735, which consumed the chapel library at the Alcázar, and the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

This release, although one would never know it from the graphics, is devoted to the Missa Praeter Rerum Seriem of George de La Hèle, a parody mass based on a six-part motet by Josquin Desprez that expands its model from six to seven and finally eight parts in a virtuoso setting.

The work here receives its world premiere, and it is worth the money and time for this alone. The performances by the properly substantial (34-voice) ensemble El León de Oro is close to an English cathedral style, with a clean, perfectly blended, rather light sound even in the more somber low-range pieces. This may be true because the conductor in the mass is Tallis Scholars director Peter Phillips, but there is no shift between the mass and the various shorter pieces directed by the choir’s founder, Marco Antonio García de Paz. These shorter pieces, by the all-but-unknown composers Pierre de Manchicourt, Nicolas Payen, and Philippe Rogier, are a distinguished group ranging from hefty two-section motets to limpid short works.

Hyperion’s sound from a monastery church in Asturias is ideal. Renaissance buffs and general listeners alike will find worthwhile new material on this album, which made classical best-seller lists in the spring of 2024.