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Briefly Noted: More Beauty Farm

available at Amazon
Obrecht, Masses, Beauty Farm

(released on April 5, 2019)
Fra Bernardo FB1905157 | 94'11"
Beauty Farm came to my attention a couple years back, when I reviewed two of their discs for the Washington Post. They are a male vocal ensemble, formed in 2014 by members of leading early music groups and based in the cultural center at the former Carthusian monastery of Mauerbach, Austria. I am happy to report that they are still active and recording. As you can see, they are still using the same quirky style of cover art for their releases on the Fra Bernardo label.

Just four of the group's roster perform in these two four-voice Mass settings by Jacob Obrecht (1457-1505), Missa Fortuna desperata and Missa Maria zart, enough music to require two CDs. Each polyphonic Ordinary by Obrecht is prefaced by its source material, Antoine Busnois's three-voice Italian canzona Fortuna desperata and the monophonic song Maria zart, von edler Art, an example of popular sacred music of the time.

The quartet sings one to a part, a practice that reflects the likely performance standard in the Renaissance and also exposes the slightest weakness in any singer. The Missa Maria zart, in particular, is a sort of super-work of the period, a feat of endurance lasting almost an hour and making use of extended vocal ranges in all parts. As is usually the case in all-male performances of this repertory, it is the two upper voices' top ranges that are most sorely tested. All in all, though, these are superbly balanced renditions of exceedingly difficult repertory, an honor to the memory of Obrecht, who died in the final days of July 1505 in Ferrara during an outbreak of the plague.

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