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Johannes OCKEGHEM (c.1400–1497) Requiem [32.27]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532–1594) Missa pro defunctis – Quinque vocum [31.56]
A History of the Requiem Part 1
Laudantes Consort/Guy Janssens
rec. 14-15 January 2006, Eglise de Vieusart, Belgium
CYPRES CYP1648 [64.23]



This disc is volume one of a planned series of four which will take in requiems from the earliest complete surviving one (that of Ockeghem) to one written especially for the series by Pierre Bartholomée. The performers on each disc will be the Laudantes Consort under their founder Guy Janssens. They are a group of singers and instrumentalists whose work is characterised by great flexibility; each work being performed by an ensemble suitable for the period of the piece. On this disc, the consort is reduced to an ensemble of twelve singers with a mixture of men and women on the alto part.

Ockeghem's Requiem is relatively short and, like many early Requiem settings, includes only a small selection of the ordinary and the propers. Ockeghem offers just the Introit, Kyrie, Gradual, Tract and Offertory. But even here, he is distinctive because the text is based on the pre-council of Trent mass so that Ockeghem sets text from Psalm 22 (Si ambulem in medio umbrae mortis) for the Gradual and Sicut Cervus for the Tract. Both of these texts reflect the influence of the Sarum Rite, developed at Salisbury Cathedral.

Though the mass is polyphonic, plainchant is never very far away; in the Introit the cantus firmus is clearly recognisable. Ockeghem varies the number of voices used according to the expressive needs of the text, meaning that the work is appreciated as a well structured series of episodes rather than a choral entity.

The performance by the Laudantes Consort reflects this, with passages being taken by solo voices. The group have an excellent blend and unanimity of purpose. They make a slightly edgy, focused sound which is just right for this period of music. Ockeghem's vocal lines flow naturally and the singers blend beautifully where necessary, whilst keeping the various lines distinct and clear.

Any group which plans to record such a diverse range of Requiem settings must think clearly about the sort of sound they want to make in each work. The Laudantes Consort have obviously done this, so that in Lassus's Requiem they produce a more choral blend, with slightly less edge, which is apt for the piece, though they retain some of their distinctive timbre.

The Lassus setting is his Missa pro Defunctis a 5 published in 1589, but the work probably dates from 1578 and may even be earlier. The text of the Tract, Absolve Domine, reflects the decisions of the Council of Trent, which finished in 1563.

The Requiem has some slightly archaic turns of phrase, but is a far more choral work than the Ockeghem. Lassus sets six movements of the mass, Introit, Kyrie Tract (Absolve Domine), Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion.

Janssens and his choir focus on the absolute beauty and accuracy of the vocal lines. They don't try to 'do' anything to the piece, simply allowing the music to speak for itself. This approach works very well. Whilst the Requiem is by no means Lassus's best known work, it is an impressive and expressive piece.

In both works, Janssens’ speeds are moderate and apt; the choir respond well to his direction and the results have all the hallmarks of an experienced and well-honed group.

The CD booklet includes an excellent article on the pieces performed as well as texts and translations.

Neither Requiem is common on disc. Having a recording of the Ockeghem which uses just one voice to a part is probably highly desirable. But this disc, coupling two fine early Requiems, has much to recommend it. The Laudantes Consort combine musical values with expressiveness and a good feeling for the different timbres and vocal textures required.

Robert Hugill



 


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