> Songs and Instrumental Music by Josquin Des Pres, his Pupils and Contemporaries [GH]: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Josquin DES PRES (c.1455-1521)
Master of Musicians
Songs and Instrumental Music by Josquin Des Pres, his Pupils and Contemporaries

Composers include Isacc, Agricola, Japart, Willaert etc.
Jennie Cassidy, soprano, Belinda Sykes, alto, John Potter, tenor and Robert Evans, bass
Musica Antiqua of London directed by Philip Thorby
Recorded at St. Mark’s Church, East Woodhay, January 2000
SIGNUM 025 [68.21]

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The Josquin influence was quite amazing and far-reaching. He was a very great composer but his dates (c.1455-1521) fall outside the remit of too many music lovers. He was technically astonishing, prolific and inspirational, and very versatile. Not enough attention has been given to his secular music. This CD redresses the balance. Even so, it is not completely satisfactory, as I shall point out shortly.

The plan is, to take a popular song of the renaissance, which may or not be by Josquin and to demonstrate reworkings of it by various composers including Josquin himself. So, for example, Josquin develops the anonymous song ‘Plusiers regretz’ into the so much more moving ‘Mille Regretz’. Then we hear it as a three-part instrumental arrangement by Gerle followed by one in four parts by Susato.

The songs are performed either by soloists or by two, three or four voices and the texts are supplied and translated.

There is a very interesting 2,000 word booklet essay by John Bryan, one of the instrumentalists, in which he comments: "The starting point for many of Josquin’s chansons was the ‘cantus primus factus’ a tune that already existed." This may be a folk song or a song by "another composer, like Hayne van Ghizeghem’s ‘De tous biens pleine’". Josquin sometimes just adds a part and sometimes transforms it completely.

Another interesting example is Josquin’s four-part setting of ‘De tous biens pleine’ where the viols play a wondrous counterpoint whilst the lute plays the melody betwixt and between them. The instrumental work throughout is a constant pleasure, but perhaps the recorder might have been exploited a little more to create a greater variety.

But what about the vocal performances on this CD? I will give you some examples.

Two viols join the wonderful basso profundo, Robert Evans, in ‘Comment peult avoir joye’ in Isacc’s arrangement and that is immediately followed by Jennie Cassidy and John Potter in a four-part arrangement of the same song by Josquin. Actually the beautifully expressive but cool voiced Cassidy is ideal and quite delightful in this repertoire. She shines in the wonderful ‘Dulcis exuviae’ by Josquin, again with viol accompaniment.

John Potter is a regular with all kinds of early music groups. I am not always so impressed by his tone quality and expressiveness but in Josquin’s five part ‘Faulte d’argent’ setting, he is excellent and light and with his usual perfect diction. In this song he is with Belinda Sykes. When hearing her voice I have to pinch myself as a reminder that this is not Jantina Noorman resurrected from retirement. This was particularly so in the four-part setting by Josquin of the rather crude song ‘ Bergerotte savoysiene’ which, Musica Reservata-like, she sings to the accompaniment of three crumhorns. (In fact they recorded in the mid-70s under Andrew Parrott). I can’t say that I always enjoy her performances. Sometimes the nasal approach is inappropriate but when it works as, in this song, it is great fun. Some of my favourite moments are when all four voices sing unaccompanied as in the lively ‘Fama malum’, the catchy ‘El Grillo’ and the famous melancholy of ‘Mille Regretz’ - all by Josquin.

The disc ends with a piece written by his pupil Hieronymous Vinders on the death of his master and is based on his master’s song ‘Le villain’ played immediately before it - and quite beautifully - by the consort of viols.

So, much here to enjoy for all early music enthusiasts and a reminder of what I call the ‘nitty-gritty’ of Renaissance music with some pieces not previously available.

Gary Higginson


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