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Jonathan Woolf
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alternatively Crotchet



Johannes OCKEGHEM (c.1410-1497)
The Ockeghem Collection

Salve Regina (Edited John Milsom) [8:48]
Missa Mi-Mi [30:18]
Alma redemptoris Mater [5:16]
Missa Prolationum [32:38]
Missa De plus en plus [34:19]
Credo “de village” [7:08]
Gaude Maria (attributed) [10:03]
Missa Fors seulement [8:12]
Fors seulement (chanson) [8:12]
Requiem [29:57]
Intemerata Dei mater [6:53]
Ave Maria [2:45]
Missa "Ecce Ancilla Domini" [36:51]
Missa Cuiusvis toni [27:34]
Celeste beneficium (attributed) [9:24]
Missa Quinti toni [27:03]
S'elle m'amera / Petite camusette [3:50]
Intemerata Dei mater [5:53]
Missa "L'homme armé" [25:48]
"Missa sine nomine (a3)" [24:34]
Missa "Au travail suis" [18:54]
Missa "Sine Nomine a5" [7:03]
The Clerks' Group/Edward Wickham
rec. St Andrew’s Church, West Wratting, 1994-99
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 550 [5 CDs: 76:57 + 75:57 + 76:33 + 73:57 + 76:27]


ASV’s groundbreaking Ockeghem series has now been consolidated into a five CD boxed set. The Clerks’ Group and Edward Wickham set new standards in this repertoire and devoted a six-year period to these recordings. Their reappearance not only confirms the profound excellence of the whole undertaking but also subtly adjusts one’s perspective of Ockeghem. In programmatic terms one must note that some, though not all, of the original releases placed the composer into his musico-liturgical background. Those who may have collected the series as it was issued will know that Ockeghem was therefore heard alongside such contemporaries as Basiron, Barbireau, Morton and the better-known Binchois and Brumel. No one however could reasonably complain given the fact that we now have a single box containing over six hours of Ockeghem performed by perhaps his most devoted interpreters.

The consistency of interpretations is one of the greatest strengths and virtues of the performances. The sonority of the group is perhaps best exemplified by their performance of the Kyrie of the Missa Mi-Mi; rock solid security in matters of technique, great amplitude at the bottom of the compass and purity and clarity at the top. The tempo moves with natural speed, though it’s never too fast to obscure textual matters. The control of the syntax is here exemplary and the group’s ability to explore slower tempi without compromising the underlying pulse equally so. The mass is for men’s voices and the one small criticism I would level is that the documentation doesn’t deal with the composition of The Clerks' Group throughout the series of recordings. But do note the expressive intensity at about 3:00 in the Kyrie of the Missa Prolationum which receives just as fine a performance.

What one values about these performances is that they are true both to the spirit and to the letter of the works. They also include works for some time attributed to Ockeghem. The Gaude Maria is a rich and florid affair and is performed with a beautifully contoured appreciation of its cresting and fall. Whoever wrote it, it’s a most persuasive performance. The Requiem is probably his most famous single work and it’s the centrepiece of the third volume – thus sitting appropriately at the centre of the five discs. The sonorities here are thrilling with intensifying and diminishing of expressive weight to remarkable effect. The nobility and gravity of the Offertorium are fitting indeed. This is a powerful performance, one cemented in excellence by the way they bring this and other works – the motets especially – so vitally to life. Intemerata Dei mater is perhaps one of the best examples of this universal gift. Note too the fluent blend of voices in the Credo of Missa "Ecce Ancilla Domini." 

To this list of superlatives it would be difficult to add. Yes, the Gloria of the Missa "L'homme armé" is taken at a quick tempo but it sounds right – and moreover it’s sustained with conviction. Overwhelmingly it’s the case that these performances reveal complex polyphonic strands that can otherwise sound vague or unfocused – partly a question of textual clarity and a precise understanding of the balance between voices.

There’s an attractive booklet with the set, which stands as the single most impressive contribution to Ockeghem on disc thus far issued.

Jonathan Woolf


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