CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


More of Tallis Scholars' Josquin Cycle

Complete Josquin Edition:
available at Amazon
M. Pange Lingua / M. La Sol Fa Re Mi / L'homme armé Masses

available at Amazon
M. Sine nomine / M. Ad fugam

available at Amazon
Missa De beata virgine / Missa Ave maris stella
available at Amazon
Josquin Des Prez, M. Malheur me bat / M. Fortuna desesperata,
Tallis Scholars

(released on March 10, 2009)
Gimell CDGIM 042 | 75'27"
I somehow missed one volume in the Tallis Scholars' excellent complete set of the Masses of Josquin Des Prez. In these works, Josquin exhausts all of the techniques for reusing preexisting material in a setting of the Latin Ordinary. To go with the Masses recorded so far -- organized using paraphrases of one or more Gregorian chants or of a secular tune, soggetto cavato (a technique that Josquin innovated), strict canon, or quotation of earlier chants or polyphonic melodies in cantus firmus -- the 2009 installment presents two Masses in which Josquin helped innovate the so-called "parody" or imitation Mass technique. In both of these settings, Josquin uses a 3-voice secular work of polyphony -- the expressive French chanson Malheur me bat, once attributed to Josquin's teacher Ockeghem but now thought to be the work of an obscure Flemish composer named Malcort, and the Latin-texted Fortuna desperata attributed (but not decisively) to Antoine Busnoys -- as the basis for each movement of the Mass. Far from being merely derivative, the imitation technique is just another way to take pre-composed material and wring out its contrapuntal possibilities, especially in Josquin's hands.

The booklet essay by the ensemble's director, Peter Phillips, lays out most of the striking parts of these Masses. The Missa Malheur me bat, believed by scholars to be the later of the two, is an absolutely gorgeous piece, beauty that is only heightened by an understanding of what Josquin was up to formally. As is often the case, Josquin was writing for three male voices plus probably trebles (or falsettists) on the top part. He uses the parts of the chanson in close polyphony, while sometimes also setting the superius in his top voice in longer note values. There are some glorious bicinia in the Sanctus and especially the Agnus Dei (the second invocation of the text, set for two tenors in close imitation), and in the Hosanna sections some exciting mensural shifts into triple time. In the final Agnus Dei, Josquin adds an extra altus and bass part, which follow their counterparts in strict canon by one beat. It is both contrapuntally ingenious and stunningly beautiful listening. The Missa Fortuna desperata is also set for four voices, but in it Josquin has not quite been able to square contrapuntal complexity -- in the Credo, for example, he quotes the source work in mensuration signs that gradually speed up the piece throughout the long text -- with the same ease of musical beauty, ending up with writing that is more austere.

No comments: