Josquin DES PREZ (c.1450-1521)
Missa Pange lingua [32:36]
Planxit autem David [14:45]
Vultum tuum deprecabuntur [27:51]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral
James O’Donnell (Master of Music)
rec. Westminster Cathedral, March 1992

For all that research can tell us, Josquin des Prez remains something of a mystery to modern music-lovers. The greatness of his music is in no doubt, however. This Franco-Flemish composer redefined what was expected of church music. While it’s going too far to say that he invented polyphony, he cemented it into the pattern of church music so that, after him, its continuation was in no doubt.

The choir of Westminster Cathedral are ideal interpreters of his work. Long established as one of this country’s finest church choirs, they blend impeccable refinement with an edge of character that makes them quite unique. In the Mass, for example, my first impression of the boys’ sound was that it was rather raw, even slightly impish, but this made it colourful and very distinctive, a welcome change from the carbon-copy uniformity that can characterise some cathedral choirs. The great blocks of chords at the start of movements, after plainsong introductions, ring here with hypnotic strength. Lines of polyphony cascade over one another in the great movements of the Gloria and Credo. Moments of punctuation leaven the texture, such as the glorious pause for reflection, almost like a drawing in of breath, at Et incarnatus est, and the spiralling layers of the Sanctus show the harmonic interplay of the choir at its best.

The motet sequence Planxit autem David, David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, is, if anything, even more beautiful, seemingly endless vocal lines being spun out to reflect the king’s grief. Pages of minor key vocal melisma seem to go on for ever before resolving magically into the major.

The cycle Vultum tuum deprecabuntur consists of a series of Motets dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and they are characterised by a particular ethereal quality, as if levitating in mid-air, unlike the more grounded Mass and Planxit. With this set of performances the boys’ voices have lost their impishness and take on a more conventionally angelic quality. This chimed in with the beautiful, other-worldly nature of both text and music and the cycle makes a roundly satisfying conclusion to the disc.

With performances of such distinction and quality, this disc would make a first-rate introduction to Josquin’s music.

Simon Thompson

With performances of such distinction and quality, this disc would make a first-rate introduction to Josquin’s music.