Monday 5 November 2018

Enjoying the musicianship: Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

Josquin Missa Gaudeamus, Missa l'ami Baudichon; The Tallis Scholars
Josquin Missa Gaudeamus, Missa l'ami Baudichon; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Gimell  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 November 2018 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Two contrasting masses from the great Renaissance composer in beautifully sung accounts

Despite the prestige of his music during and after his lifetime, we know so very little about the composer Josquin. So we must appreciate his masses for themselves, rather than worrying about how they fit into his musical life.

On this new disc from Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars on Gimell, there are two wonderfully contrasting masses Missa Gaudeamus and Missa l'ami Baudichon. And in fact, the contrast between the masses illustrates the sheer virtuosity of Josquin's style.

Missa Gaudeamus comes from Josquin's middle period, the ninth of the 18 masses attributed to him and written 20 years after his earliest examples and 20 years before his final works. It is based on a Latin chant Gaudeaumus omnes in Domino and is intended for the feast of All Saints. In fact, Josquin uses mostly just the first six notes of the chant (the full chant is used once in each of the Gloria and Credo) and then creates some superb polyphonic textures by applying mathematics. The result is not a dry academic exercise, but a wonderfully sensuous series of highly worked textures. In his booklet note, Peter Phillips gives a detailed breakdown of how the final Agnus Dei is constructed, and it is dizzying, the miracle being that you can listen to the music without ever having to be aware of the construction beneath it.

The early Missa l'ami Baudichon dates from the beginning of Josquin's career and is also based on a pre-existing melody, this time a popular song which has bawdy lyrics (something that never seemed to bother Renaissance composers). Though Josquin uses only the first few notes of the melody, what he does with it in this mass is entirely different to Missa Gaudeamus. The music is less highly wrought and more lyrical with the sheer beauty of the sound being important. Whereas Missa Gaudeamus uses all the parts equally in complex polyphony, in Missa l'ami Baudichon there is more often the feeling of the soprano line being supported by the lower parts.

As a bonus, the disc opens with the plainchant Gaudeaumus omnes in Domino, though regrettably, we do not get to hear the bawdy song on which  Missa l'ami Baudichon is based, though the booklet prints the melody.

The Tallis Scholars sing these two masses in their own profoundly beautiful style, the individual lines blending and balancing, with finely shaped phrasing. It is a real joy to listen to. Of course, there are many other ways to perform this music, and that we know so little means that any sense of original performance practice must be an educated guess. On this disc, we simply enjoy the musicianship.

Josquin des Pres (c1440-1521) - Missa Gaudeamus
Josquin des Pres - Missa l'ami Baudichon
Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips (conductor)
Recorded in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford
GIMMELL CDGIM050 1CD [66.48]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • The Unknown Traveller: The Fieri Consort in Italian madrigals from Musica Transalpina and Ben Rowarth (★★★★) - CD review
  • Disturbing intensity: Lucia di Lammermoor at ENO (★★★★) - opera review
  • Voices of Aotearoa - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir at Cadogan Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Die Walküre - Royal Opera House Live  - (★★★½) Opera review
  • Confidence: Julien Behr in 19th century Romantic French opera arias (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Musical drama: Bellini's Norma with Helena Dix in the title role  - (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • New music in Manchester - I chat to Tim Williams, artistic director of Psappha  - my interview
  • A walk with Ivor Gurney: Sarah Connolly and Tenebrae at Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Colour and movement: orchestral music by Kenneth Hesketh (★★★½) - CD review
  • Abbandonata: Italian cantatas from Carolyn Sampson and Robert King  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivid story telling: Schubert's Swansong with Sir John Tomlinson and Christopher Glynn (★★★★) - CD review
  • Music for Windy Instruments: Sounds from the court of King James I (★★★½) - CD review
  • Independent Opera Showcase Recital at Wigmore Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  •  Home

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