Johannes OCKEGHEM (1400/1421 – 1497)
Missa de plus en plus [35.55]
Presque transi [5.49]
Prenez sur moi vostre exemple amoreux [5.18]
O Rosa bella [3.59]
Aultre Venus estes sans faille [4.21]
S’ell m’amera [4.04]
Tant fuz gentement [3.30]
Mort tu as navre de ton dart [8.46]
Orlando Consort (Robert Harre-Jones, Matthew Venner, Mark Dobell, Charles Daniles, Angus Smith, Donald Greig)
rec. 5-8 March 1996, St. Osdag Kirche Mandelsloh, Neustadt.

Considering that he was one of the most celebrated composers in the 15th Century, we don’t seem to know a lot about Johannes Ockeghem; his exact birth-date, birth location and early training are all uncertain. He left behind a significant musical record and when he died in 1497 his death was marked by compositions from some of the greatest composers of the time.

Ockeghem’s Missa De plus en plus uses as its cantus firmus, the tenor part of Binchois’s rondeaux De plus en plus. The piece has some of the rhythmic density of some of Ockeghem’s early masses, but also seems to be performing an act of homage to Binchois. Ockeghem wrote a deploration on Binchois’s death in 1460, Mort, tu as navre de ton dart and this wonderful piece is the last item on this disc. Scholars tend to assume that the mass was written at about the same time as the deploration.

If we know little about Ockeghem the man, we probably know even less about performance practice in the 15th century. So there are various ways that you can approach the mass. The Orlando Consort perform it one voice to a part, with all men. As an alternative there are versions from Edward Wickham and the Clerkes Group, and Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars, both of which take a more choral approach.

The Orlando Consort’s approach works well in this music. There is an austerity to the sound of just four men which suits Ockeghem’s textures. In the denser passages the Orlando brings good crisp clarity to the lively rhythms. Everything is sung with a nice feel for Ockeghem’s long lines.

The voice ranges required for these parts are quite large and demanding, so that in the more choral-based versions there is a discreet mixing and matching of singers; the four men of the Orlando Consort do it all on their own. The results are simply impressive from a technical and stamina point of view and the benefits far out-weigh the hints of human fallibility which inevitably come with using just one voice to a part in this type of music.

The Orlando Consort’s interpretation is quite restrained. You could imagine a more demonstrative account of the music, but this ‘less is more’ approach works very well for them and I would happily listen to this disc repeatedly.

About the accompanying chansons I am less certain. Certainly including the chansons does give a neat over-view of Ockeghem’s career, but I don’t feel the Orlando Consort handle them well. They still seem to be in sacred mode, and I kept feeling that I would far rather have had a selection of contemporary motets - which is what the Clerkes Group does.

The CD booklet includes an informative essay, plus the text for the mass in Latin and English. There are no texts for the chansons, which would seem a significant omission. The CD was originally issued on DG and is now warmly welcome on the Brilliant Classics budget label.

Quite which recording of Ockeghem’s Missa de Plus en Plus you go for depends on your personal preferences. This is a superb recording of the mass and if you can live with the chansons, then I would go for it. You might not like the idea of just one voice to a part, in which case go for the Clerkes Group - where the coupling is a selection of motets - or The Tallis Scholars, where the coupling is another Ockeghem mass.

Robert Hugill

A superb recording of the mass and if you can live with the chansons, then I would go for it.