The Spirits of England and France
- Volume 5
Missa Veterem hominem

ANON Missa Veterem hominem (Kyrie eleison [5.33];Gloria [4.58]; Credo [4.57]; Sanctus and Benedictus [5.28]; Agnus dei [4.55]); Jesu fili virginis [2.44]; Doleo super te [1.36]; Gaude Maria virgo [3.04]; Deus creator omnium [2.55]; Jesu salvator [2.18]; A solis ortus [3.30]; Salvator mundi [2.38]; Christe qui lux es [2.07]; To many a well (Carol) [5.22]; Sancta Maria (Motet) [1.33]; Mater ora Filium (motet) [1.23]; Ave Maris Stella [2.28]; Pange Lingua [3.54]
John DUNSTABLE (c.1390-1453) Beata mater
Gothic Voices/Christopher Page
rec. 13-17 July 1996, Rickmansworth Masonic School Chapel,
first issued as CDA66919

Gothic Voices under Christopher Page’s direction made some twenty-three CDs for Hyperion over a period of about twenty or so years. The personnel changed a great deal over that time and there are those who think that once Margaret Philpot left then things were never quite as exciting. In addition Page started to move down other lines, away from the secular songs of France and Italy. For example he set about recording complete Mass cycles - something that he was passionate about - and not Masses by the great and the good of the 15th Century but by anonymous composers. Since his direction came to an end Gothic Voices have lived on with two discs for Avie of Solage and Landini.

The Missa Veterem hominem is a fine and complex work, and the performance which is dynamic and constantly interesting seems to go beyond the bare notes and almost into the mind of the (sadly) anonymous composer. It’s in a rendition which he probably wouldn’t have been able to hear; for example the top line is taken by Catherine King, who although she has no vibrato and has a clarity which is quite remarkable is obviously not a male!

The Mass is surrounded and broken up by carols and plainchants one of which is Deus creator omnium, which immediately precedes the Kyrie and is performed by Leigh Nixon. It uses, in the polyphonic version, the same troped text. So busy and wordy is this text that it takes longer to perform than the Gloria. The plainchant of the Veterem hominem is quoted in the booklet, is used in part as a head motif but is not strictly adhered to. The important notes by Page and Andrew Kirkman talk about wishing to “render the music in a festive colour”. One way this is achieved is by the sheer vitality of the performance and by tempo, so that the tactus is really the same for each movement and quite fast it is too. Despite that there is no sense of unrelenting breathlessness; there’s even a sense of searching spirituality attained. Nevertheless there are places when surely a little more sensitivity would have been fitting. I’ll mention two, the ‘Qui Tollis’ in the Gloria and the ‘Et Incarnatus’ in the Credo where the music seems to cry out for it and at a point where things need to relax a little. However, to back up Page’s point, the Creed does miss out the darker part of the text beginning ‘Crucifixus etiam pro nobis’ and moves quickly into ‘Et resurrexit’.

This mass was composed about 1440 for a special occasion which Page does not venture to elucidate nor does he speculate about the composer. Whoever he was he may well have written the sister mass featured on volume 4 in this series, the Missa Caput (CDH 55284). Both were hugely influential and found in many continental sources and the mass under consideration here is also quoted by Thomas Morley in his ‘Plaine and Easy Introduction to Music’ (1597). English music in the early 15th century, in fact since the days of John Dunstaple (or Dunstable) (d.1453) had led the world. The style here is not his nor that of Lionel Power of a slightly earlier period; perhaps Henry Souleby or Soursby of Eton – of the Chapel Royal in the 1460s - is the sort of man we should be looking at, but that is just my aimless speculation.

The carols - Jesu, fili virginis and To many a well - are also taken at a brisk speed to match the typically frank English rhythms. The motets to the Virgin are befittingly much more calm and meditative, and what a good idea on a disc in which plainchant has been crucial to end with one of the most moving, the ‘Pange lingua’.

It has been interesting to return to this well programmed disc not having heard it for several years. My original impression was not especially favourable but on re-acquaintance I have become quite excited about the Mass and about singing and am sorry that I have abandoned the disc on my shelf for a decade. Listen for yourself, it’s a revelation.

Gary Higginson

My original impression was not especially favourable but I have become quite excited about the Mass and about the singing - it’s a revelation.

The Spirits of England and France series
Vol. 1 CDH55281 Helios
Vol. 2 CDH55282 Helios
Vol. 3 CDH55283 Helios
Vol. 4 CDH55284 Helios
Gothic Voices/Christopher Page