disc from the Tallis Scholars is promised as the first
in a new series of Josquin masses. Here Peter Phillips
and his group present two Josquin masses which would
seem to come from opposite ends of Josquin’s career.
Both masses are entirely based on canons.
an early work. In it the canon is always between
the top part and the third part down, and always
a fifth apart. All five movements start with the
same material, so all start with the same canonic
opening. Josquin’s writing is easy to follow and
transparent, with the non-canonic lines - the second
and fourth parts - often hardly joining in at all.
Dating of the mass owes something to stylistic concerns
as the canonic writing is far stiffer than would
have happened in Josquin’s later examples. But there
also exists an original source in the library of
Jena University in which someone, possibly Josquin,
has re-worked the canon in the Sanctus and Agnus
These changes owe rather more to Josquin’s later
style, the revisions providing tauter thinking which
contrasts with the long lines of the original. On
this disc, the Tallis Scholars rather usefully record
both the original and the revisions, which allows
us a rare glimpse into a composer’s revisions from
the medieval period.
contrast the Missa Sine Nomine
a prime example of Josquin’s later mature style. The
work comes just before his last mass setting, the Missa
. In his article in the CD booklet Peter
Phillips suggests that this may have been written by
Josquin as a deliberate foil to the earlier mass, to
show what he was now capable of. If, as is presumed,
Josquin studied with Ockeghem then the quote from Ockeghem’s Nymphes
in the Credo (at the words et incarnatus
) may be Josquin’s tribute to his late master’s
famed dexterity with the canonic form.
is a far denser,
less transparent work than its predecessor. The canons
are distributed all over the score, rather than being
confined to particular voices, and Josquin makes things
more complex by introducing canonic imitation as well
as pure canon. Of course none of this really matters;
the mass can be listened to without any knowledge of
its construction. That is part of Josquin’s genius
and probably his way of showing off; to construct something
so fine and so complex and to disguise the construction
mechanism so perfectly.
Tallis Scholars recorded both works with choirs of eight
singers, two per part. No recording date is provided,
but given that both Philip Cave and James Gilchrist are
included in the line-up points to a recording date rather
earlier than 2008, the year of publication.
masses are performed in the Tallis Scholars familiar
and inimitable style. Lines are beautifully shaped and
delineated, the interplay between the different voices
is shaded perfectly and the polyphony is beautifully
transparent and easy to follow. The performance is well
modulated; vibrato is sparing which means that each line
has strength and integrity. A detractor could describe
these performances as coolly English, verging on icy
perfection. To which you might reply that all the passion
is in the nuances and phrasing.
could imagine these masses sung by one of the more recent
choral groups, performed intensely and vibrantly with,
perhaps, one to a part. That would be an entirely different
performance and just as valid. After all we know little
of the performance practices of the choirs for which
Josquin wrote these pieces.
of the Tallis Scholars will definitely want these discs.
Admirers of Josquin masses can buy them in the secure
knowledge that they will be getting near perfection of
see also review by Brian Wilson