For nigh on 30 years, John O’Donnell has directed the choral group in Melbourne called Ensemble Gombert. This a cappella group of around 18 voices takes its name from the Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance (c.1495-c.1560) and its very title reveals its special focus on early music and the Renaissance in particular. Presently the University Organist at Monash University, O’Donnell himself is an internationally recognised keyboard performer, choral conductor and musicologist.  He brings to his Ensemble’s performance acute attention to period style, articulation and just intonation.

These characteristics were evident in the two short works which opened the 75-minute concert on Sunday afternoon.

Ensemble Gombert

A Human Requiem, Ensemble Gombert. Photo supplied

The first of these was the six-voice setting of the Marian Sequence, Praeter rerum seriem (“Contrary to the order of nature, a virgin mother hath given birth to God and man”) by Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521). In his typically erudite notes, O’Donnell characterises this five-minute work as “one of the most extraordinarily original works of its time – Indeed, of all time”, in the various triple metres...