Pierre de la Rue’s Requiem Mass are not a common occurrence
in the CD catalogue. The piece was recorded by the New London
Chamber Choir, under James Wood, in 1985 and subsequently by
The Clerks Group under Edward Wickham in 2006. Now the New London
Chamber Choir recording has been re-issued on the Amon Ra label.
De La Rue probably wrote his Requiem Mass
in emulation of Ockeghem’s Requiem. De La Rue’s work is based
on the plainchant requiem mass and each movement moves easily
from plainchant to polyphony, with the polyphony including the
plainchant cantus firmus.
reviews of this disc, and of the recording by the Clerks Group,
talk of the eccentricities and problems of this work. But frankly,
in this recording it is very approachable. The choir sing with
a lovely warm tone and there are only slight occasions when
you detect a lack of unanimity. The result is a good standard
recording of the work, but….
did wonder what de la Rue’s mass would sound like recorded with
a smaller group singing a medieval tuning rather the modern
standard tuning. Though James Wood and his singers give de la
Rue his due, I could not help feeling that something of the
works early exoticism was missing in this performance; that
it had been given the standard Western choral treatment.
his 1987 Gramophone review David Fallows describes this work
as ‘one of the most puzzling works of its generation’. Somehow,
I feel that James Wood and his choir miss this element. But
they do provide a performance of fine musicality.
pair the work with Josquin’s Missa ‘Hercules Dux Ferrariae’.
The choir change their tone significantly for this work and
provide a strikingly robust performance. The mass is probably
one of the earliest of the composer’s settings to be based,
not on plainchant or a popular song but on an entirely original
motto theme. The theme which gives the work its name is based
on the dedicatee’s name – Hercules Dux Ferrariae.
the choir perform Josquin’s Deploration for Johannes Ockeghem;
a wonderful lament for the composer written in or around 1497
when Ockeghem died.
music as early as this, we have to decide whether we want to
hear a performance which attempts to reconstruct the sound-world
of the composers or which projects the music into our own place
and time. These performances do the latter, but do it in a fine,
musical manner. Only occasionally did I wish that the high gloss
performance was replaced by something a little rasping, that
the standard modern tonality was replaced by a more strident
is an attractive disc and only occasionally do the choir’s very
high standards lapse. Perhaps, nowadays, we might expect performances
which reflect the tuning and tonality of the 1400s. But Wood
and his choir display fine musicality and anyone wanting performances
of these works need look no further.