is a set of six previously-released CDs of mostly sacred music
by Josquin and his contemporaries. Here you will also find music
thought to be by Josquin and Johannes Martini, Eneas Dupré,
Elzéar Genet Carpentras, and music (mis)attributed to them in
various ways. It’s a splendid set – full of vigour and sophisticated
music-making - and can be safely recommended.
of the CDs was first released on one of the Naïve/Auvidis/Astrée
stable labels between 1994 and 2001. The cardboard-slipcased
set now represents a comprehensive and pleasing collection of
Josquin’s work. It would make a good starting point for anyone
either new to this music and indeed anyone fond of or interested
in exploring the distinct - and evolving - singing style of
A Sei Voci – a style which has been characterised as less self-consciously
‘perfect’ than that of some performers. That’s not a criticism:
each item on this set is truly a performance in its own right.
It is to be hoped that they are also close to the spirit in
which one might have experienced them in Josquin’s time; just
the right mix of spontaneity and professionalism.
Sei Voci is a French ensemble and has included Ruth Holton and
James Gowings. They have been performing for thirty years. Working
in collaboration with musicologists of the Renaissance and Baroque,
they usually inject a visual element into their performances
evoking the age in which the music that they perform was written.
In this collection, analogously, CD 1 begins with a bell, calling
to attention, though there is little other theatricality and
one senses a homage paid to the music based not on ‘trend’ or
misty reverence but on involvement and dedication. In other
words these are considered, lively – more: living – performances.
Sei Voci comprises a core of six musicians; they bring in others
when needed - as in the 'Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae' (CD 6)
here, where they are joined by Les Saqueboutiers du Toulouse
and Ensemble Labyrinthes with organist Michel Bouvard. The ensemble’s
approach is that of a group of expert soloists whose articulation
is pellucid and balanced, with baritone Bernard Fabré-Garrus
also the group's director.
sound, while undeniably very professional, is ‘breathier’, more
personal and ‘rougher’ in the best sense of the word than those
of some of the other performances mentioned here for comparison.
It’s also a very beautiful, closely-recorded and intimate sound.
In the ensemble passages, especially the fast ones - the ‘Regina
Caeli’ in CD 5’s motets, for example - they nevertheless hold
together a purposeful, driven line. You do notice that it’s
individuals singing - as much as a small choir. Again, that’s
no bad thing.
issue for many listeners in making a choice of recordings of
these works will be whether to opt for those interpretations
which emphasise the architecture, the overall impression and
shape of the music; or ones which concentrate on particularities,
on the beauty of the moment. This engaged yet solid approach
taken by A Sei Voci and their ancillary forces works well: it
veers towards the latter - the music’s own moments of which
one is aware… accelerandi, rallentandi, crescendi, for example
- by emphasis on the words of the masses and motets. The group
work with the texts in such a way that one’s expectations –
for example of the poetry of the motets – as to sustain the
structure of the music. Admirable.
Missa Pange Lingua, Josquin’s last mass, is reasonably
well-represented on disc and listeners are likely to have their
favourites – including recordings by the Clément Janequin and
Organum Ensembles (Harmonia Mundi 901239). The present one,
however, is a warm, stylish and polished performance, which
deserves a place in every Josquin specialist’s collection; not
least because of the inclusion of the far less often recorded
motets and plainchant.
L’homme armé masses have been recorded many times although
some of the finest offerings are sadly no longer available.
The Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerley (Naxos 8553428) probably
now remains the most viable ‘competition’ to this re-release,
which is truly magnificent. The singing is clean, fresh and
expressive. Fabré-Garrus uses counter-tenors and children of
the Maîtrise des Pays de Loire, which lends the experience a
lightness and precision. You might think this being at odds
with the liturgical origins of the mass itself. But it works
well, although the forward pace seems at times a little slower
than might be expected.
Sei Voci previously recorded the ‘De Beata Vergine’ mass
in 1985. This is a very different interpretation and it’s inviting
to speculate that the ensemble has been influenced by the likes
of the Theatre of Voices and Paul Hillier (Harmonia Mundi 2907376),
which would be the other recording to investigate. It’s also
a delight to have the motets on the same disc.
there is a recording of Josquin’s ‘Ave maris stella’
Mass by the Taverner Consort, it’s no longer available. So the
only current and available recordings of this work are by A
Sei Voci – both on this disc and CD 6 (Naïve 8601). CD 4 also
has the motets. Again the singing is splendid: limpid, penetrating
and scrupulously uncluttered. In other words – as is the case
with all the performances in this set – the deeper interpretive
aspects of the music are revealed more through attention to
detail and the texts, than by long sweeps of sound. Again, one
has minor doubts about tempi: the Sanctus of the mass
is a little hurried. Charitably, this could almost be interpreted
as A Sei Voci’s shunning emotion and avoiding an over-expressive,
precious little alternative to this CD in the case of the Missa
Gaudeamus, Walter Testolin and De Labyrintho (Stradivarius
33722) being the only extant recording. But the current performance
is an excellent one.
Fabré-Garrus uses children (girls and boys) from the Maîtrise
des Pays de Loire in the top line of this complex work. A challenge
indeed. He and his forces pull it off admirably. The presence
of the motets, some of them relative rarities, is a big plus
and makes this yet another recommendable recording. As is the
case with almost all of the rest of the music in this set, every
note is audible, every syllable conveyed with conviction and
and De Labyrintho (Stradivarius 33674) have also recorded the
magnificent ‘Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae’. Theirs -
and that of the New London Chamber Chorus under James Wood (Amon
Ra 24) – are recordings to consider.
rival recordings do not, though, bring in the ‘extra’ forces
deployed by Fabré-Garrus. To Les Saqueboutiers du Toulouse and
Ensemble Labyrinthes are also added Maîtrise des Pays de Loire
music on the CD is associated with the Duke Ercole I d’Este
and his marriage in 1473, a sumptuous, extrovert and highly
spectacular occasion. Indeed Josquin derived melodic material
from the vowels of the Duke’s name. This surely accounts for
the greater, more opulent forces. At first there is a thrill
to the fuller sound picture. But repeated performances may convince
the listener that the less outgoing, more ‘private’ approach
of the rival recordings has just as much – if not more – to
recommend it. Perhaps the perceptible touch of rhetoric on this
occasion is superfluous.
a whole, then, here is a collection to be treasured. It’s vigorous
yet thoughtful; easy on the ear and on the soul. The CDs’ booklets
are informative and the recordings, acoustic and quantities