This disc presents Josquin at his most approachable. It is
beautifully sung, everything is very even, and little effort
is made to articulate the words at the expense of the flow of
the music. It is the sort of recording of renaissance music
that you can put on in the background for atmosphere.
But there is more to Josquin than that, and especially to his
Missa Pange Lingua, one of the most revolutionary works
of the 16th century. I'd rather it sounded that way,
with more contrast in the tempos, timbres and articulation.
There is a famous passage in the Credo "Et incarnatus est
de Spiritu Sancto...", which in most recordings sounds
like it has appeared out of nowhere, an angelic choir interrupting
the human voices of the surrounding passages. In this recording
it doesn't quite come out like that, the tempo is slowed slightly
for the passage, but otherwise it just forms part of the continuous
Fortunately, this music is very robust; Josquin writes counterpoint
so clear that the individual lines will come through in almost
any interpretation. And it has to be said that the singing is
to a uniformly high standard. This style of performance with
very long, joined up vocal lines must pose considerable physical
challenges to the singers, who cope magnificently.
The use of a mixed professional choir says more about modern
German choral traditions than those of the 16th century.
Scholarly opinion favours the view that choral music of the
period was sung a fourth or a fifth lower than written. Recordings
of Josquin are divided more or less evenly between those who
transpose and those who don't. In this recording they don't,
partly perhaps because the written tessitura better suits the
use of women's voices. The higher pitch adds to the clarity
of the counterpoint, but at the expense of atmosphere and solemnity.
The acoustic of the Lutherkirche Leipzig is quite dry, at least
for a church. I've no complaints about that, this music does
not need a wide halo of resonance to achieve its effect. But
they could easily have got away with using a larger church and
still maintain the clarity.
The other works on the disc make for an interestingly diverse
programme. The first track O virgo virginum Filiae Jerusalem
is classic Josquin, a six-part motet of wonderfully intricate
yet understated counterpoint. Ave nobilissima creatura Tibi,
Domina gloriosa is another case in point. This too is a
six-part motet, and has an impressively varied texture, moving
between the extremes of contrapuntal complexity and homophonic
stability, and visiting every point between. The other works
include the Gregorian Pange Lingua hymn and some canons with
very weak links of attribution to Josquin. They're good, but
not as good as the real thing.
So on balance, this is competent Josquin, but by no means ideal.
In terms of performance practice, there are so many questions
unanswered about the choral music of the period that much of
it comes down to issues of taste. This recording aims to appeal
to those who appreciate the professionalism of German chamber
choirs and their versatility in performing music of all eras.
Usually I'm one of that number, but I like Josquin to sound
more gritty, with harder articulation and more tonal focus.
Everything here is just too pleasant by half.