This well-filled anthology of the music of Josquin Desprez (Brilliant
Classics’ preferred spelling) first appeared in 2000 to general
acclaim and its return at the new super-budget price is even more
welcome. Not all of this music can be firmly attributed to Josquin,
but it is all well worth hearing.
Almost all the music here is religious in character, mostly in praise of the Virgin Mary. Even Ut Phœbi radiis
(track 2), which begins with classical references to the moon, sister to Phœbus, and to the Golden Fleece, soon turns to praise of Mary, who rules over all, and ends with a prayer to Jesus to remember us:
Ut Phœbi radiis soror obvia sidera luna,
Ut reges Salomon sapientis nomine cunctos,
Ut remi pontum quaerentum velleris aurum,
Ut remi faber instar ha bens super aera pennas,
Ut remi fas solvaces traducere merces,
Petri currere prora,
Sic super omne quod est regnas, O virgo Maria.
Latius in numerum canit id quoque cœlica turba,
Lasso lege ferens aeterna munera mundo
La sol fa ta mina clara prælustris in umbra,
La sol fa mi ta na de matre recentior ortus,
La sol fa mi re ta quidem na non violata,
Ut rore ta na Gedeon quo.
Rex O Christe Jesu nostri Deus alte memento.
I offer the text of this motet because although there are, as the Brilliant Classics website claims, scholarly notes, which refer, among other matters, to the brilliant musical devices which Josquin employs in this piece*, there is no sign of the all-important texts or translations. Can this be the same Brilliant Classics who produced a wonderful, scholarly and de luxe
booklet for their recording of Monteverdi’s Ritorno d’Ulisse
? Other texts and even some scores – for example, of Inviolata, integra et casta es
(tr.1) – can be found fairly readily online; surely Brilliant could have offered them all in the booklet or in one place on the web, if it had been thought too expensive to print them.
I add also the text of track 1, Inviolata, integra et casta es
, in praise of the purity of the Virgin Mary, the shining gate of heaven and Mother of Christ, to get you started:
Inviolata, integra, et casta es Maria,
quæ es effecta fulgida cæli porta.
O Mater alma Christi carissima,
suscipe pia laudum præconia.
Nostra ut pura pectora sint et corpora,
quæ nunc flagitant devota corda et ora.
Tua per precata dulcisona,
nobis concedas veniam per sæcula.
O benigna, o regina, o Maria,
quæ sola inviolata permanisti.
Track 4 presents one of those medieval/renaissance works with two texts – one secular, one religious. Otherwise, only track 13, Josquin’s lament for the death of Johannes Ockeghem, is semi-secular: the classical nymphs of the wood, goddesses of the fountain and Ockeghem’s fellow composers, clad in mourning weeds, are bid lament that his life has been cut short by Atropos, whom Milton calls ‘the blind Fury
with th’abhorred shears,/[who] slits the thin spun life’. (Actually, for once, the classically-trained Milton was nodding: Atropos is a Fate, not a Fury.) The opening words may be classical, but the cantus firmus
is based on the Requiem æternam
the words ‘Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them’ form the refrain:
Nymphes des bois, déeses des fontaines,
chantres expers de toutes nations,
changez voz voix fort clères et haultaines
en cris tranchantz et lamentations,
car d’Atropos les molestations
vostre Ockeghem par sa rigueur attrappe,
le vray trèsoir de musicque et chief d’œuvre,
qui de trépas désormais plus n’eschappe,
dont grant doumaige
est que la terre cœuvre.
Acoutrez vous d’abitz de deuil:
Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon, Compère.
et plorez grosses larmes d’œil:
perdu avez vostre bon père.
Requiem æternam dona eis Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis. Amen.
Of those fellow composers who are named, Josquin himself is the best known today, but we also have recordings of the music of Brumel, (Loyset) Compère and Piechon (Pierre de la Rue).
Much as I should miss hearing those other composers, including Ockeghem himself, Josquin himself would have to be my desert-island choice and this recording by the Orlando Consort would stand high on my list of versions from which to choose; the quality of the performances and recording would be strong advocates for its selection.
It would not, however, be my final choice: first, because I would wish to have one or more of Josquin’s Mass settings, rather than the short pieces included here, and secondly because there are even better performances of his music. Unthinkable as it would have been fifty years ago or even less, we are almost spoiled for choice today: there are currently available dozens of recordings wholly or chiefly containing his music and several of them offer a greater variety of music and/or performances even better than those of the Orlando Consort.
Press me really hard and I would have to choose for that desert island one of the recent recordings by The Tallis Scholars, who are currently embarked on recording all Josquin’s Masses – either Missa Malheur me bat
and Missa Fortuna desperata
on CDGIM042 (see review
) or Missa sine nomine
and Missa ad Fugam
(CDGIM039 – see review
). If you’re looking for a bargain to challenge the Brilliant Classics reissue, Gimell offer some earlier Tallis Scholars recordings on a 2-CD-for-1 set, The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin
(CDGIM206 – see review
in my March 2009 Download Roundup), available for as little as £7.99 from Gimell as an mp3 download (£9.99 for lossless, also available on CD).
The Orlando singers are all distinguished, not least Andrew Carwood who has, of course, since founded his own ensemble, The Cardinall’s Musick; Robert Macdonald, one of the basses on this Brilliant CD, is also a member. Perhaps because almost all the music consists of short(ish) Marian motets, however, the Orlando performances of Josquin do seem beautiful – no complaints at all about the quality of the singing as such – but just a little unvaried. Compare the programme here with The Cardinall’s Musick’s most recent recording for Hyperion, the final volume of their survey of the music of Byrd, which I made my Download of the Month in my February 2010 Download Roundup (CDA6779 – see review
) and you will hear what I mean about variety. Only in that Lament for Ockeghem
does the style seem really varied: for my money, this is the pick of the CD, closely followed by O Virgo virginum
(tr.5), not only for the quality of the music but also for the commitment of the singing.
The recording (originally made by DG) is good and the price of this reissue is very enticing. The singing is never less than secure; though I have some reservations about the variety and (more seriously) about the lack of texts, I cannot deny this reissue a firm recommendation as an inexpensive way of getting to know Josquin’s wonderful music. If Brilliant Classics had not spoiled the ship for a ha’porth of tar and provided the texts, I might well have nominated this Bargain of the Month. If I ever do end up on that desert island and this CD happens to wash ashore with me, rather than one of those Gimell CDs, I shall not be too disappointed.
If this Brilliant Classics CD is your introduction to Josquin
and you wish to explore further, you should go for one or all
of the Gimell recordings that I have listed. There is also an
excellent recording by the Binchois Consort, directed by Andrew
Kirkman, of Josquin and his Contemporaries
You will get the texts with the Gimell recordings, even as downloads,
but the Hyperion is one of their very few downloads not to come
complete with the booklet of notes and texts. The CD, of course,
comes with their usual high-quality booklet. As I close this review,
I note that it has not been selling well and is languishing among
those Hyperion recordings which have made it onto their half-price
please buy me list. It will no longer be on offer
at half price when you read this review - the offers change every
couple of days - but it really is worth every penny of full price
and, by buying it, you could help ensure that it never again appears
among the waifs and strays. Or you can download it from the Hyperion
website in good mp3 or even better lossless sound for just £7.99.
* Try to spot all the names of notes which Josquin works into the text, bearing in mind that Ut re mi
were the original names of the first three notes which we now know as do re mi