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Josquin DES PRÉZ (c. 1440-1521)
Johannes MARTINI (c. 1440-1498) *
Eneas DUPRÉ (15th century) **
Elzéar Genet CARPENTRAS (c. 1470-1548) ***
CD 1 Missa Pange Lingua, Motets
Missa Pange lingua [36:10]
Christus mortuus est pro nobis/Circumdederunt me [2:16]
Qui velatus facie fuisti [11:28]
Pange lingua [3:52]
O Domine Jesu Christe [10:22]
Popule meus [5:36]
Nos autem [3:24]
NAÏVE 8639
CD 2 L'homme Armé Masses (****)
Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales [30:34]
Missa L'homme armé sexti toni [34:59]
NAÏVE 8809
CD 3 Missa De Beata Virgine
Missa de beata virgine [33:02]
O virgo prudentissima [6:24]
Stabat mater dolorosa [6:38]
Ave Maria à 6 [4:32]
Inviolata, integra et casta es, Maria [4:47]
Tu solus qui facis mirabilia [4:09]
CD 4 Missa Ave Maris Stella, Motets
Missa Ave maris stella [23:32]
Salve, regina [3:47]
Gaude virgo, mater Christi [3:17]
Alma Redemptoris mater/Ave regina celorem [5:51]
Vultum tuum deprecabuntur [18:16]
Ave maris stella [7:36]
NAÏVE 8507
CD 5 Missa Gaudeamus, Motets (****)
Missa Gaudeamus [46:41]
Recordare virgo Mater [4:06]
Regina caeli [4:24]
Ave maris stella [5:33]
Virgo salutiferi [6:13]
NAÏVE 8612
CD 6 Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae
Perfunde Coeli Rore (1473) [7:20] (*)(****)
Inviolata, integra et casta es [3:28] (****)
Miserere mei, Deus [12:43] (****)
Chi à Martello dio gl'il Toglia  [2:35] (**)
Deus, in nomine tuo  [4:23] (***)
Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae  [30:55] (****)
Rec. Sep1996
NAÏVE 8601
A Sei Voci (Ruth Holton (soprano); Delphine Collot (soprano); Raoul Le Chenadec (counter-tenor); Jean-Louis Comoretto (counter-tenor); Thierry Brehu (tenor); James Gowings (baritone); Hervé Lamy (tenor); Bernard Fabre-Garrus (baritone))
Maîtrise des Pays de Loire (****)
Les Saqueboutiers du Toulouse and Ensemble Labyrinthes (**/***)
Michel Bouvard (organ) (***)
Bernard Fabré-Garrus
rec. Fontevraud Royal Abbey, France, Jan 1995 (CD3); Abbaye de l'Epau, France, Jan 1993 (CD 4)
NAÏVE E8906 [6 CDs: 69:32 + 73:59 + 59:00 + 63:00 + 67:55 + 62:01]

This 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.

Each 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.

A 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.

A 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.

Their 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. 

The 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. 

CD 1

The 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.

CD 2

The 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.

CD 3

A 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.

CD 4

Although 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, forced, realisation.

CD 5

There’s 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.

Again 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 clarity. 

CD 6

Testolin 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.

These 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 again.

The 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.

As 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 generous. 

Mark Sealey 



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