Pierre MOULU (1484 - 1550) Fiere attropos mauldicte [4.34]
Traditional Skolader yaouank [2.58]
Josquin DESPREZ (1450/55 - 1521) Coeur Desolez [2.26]
Costanzo FESTA (1485/90 -1545) Quis dabit oculis nostris [6.41]
Traditional Annaig ar Glaz [2.12]
Antoine DE FEVIN (1470 – 1512) Messe de Requiem [40.03]
Lupus HELLINCK (1494 - 1541) Miserere mei [3.08]
Pierre DE LA RUE (1452 - 1518) Coeurs Desolez [4.11]
Traditional Stabat Mater [2.51]
Yann-Fanch Kemener (voice)
Doulce Memoire/Denis Raisin Dadre
rec. Abbey of Fontevraud, 20-24 September 2010

Anne of Brittany was the sole heiress of the Duke of Brittany and as such ruler of Brittany in her own right. She married two successive Kings of France; as a result the independent duchy of Brittany was absorbed into France. On her death, in 1514, there were magnificent obsequies starting at the Royal castle of Blois, where she died. These stopped en route at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and finished at Saint-Denis where the Kings of France were buried.

We know from the descriptions of the chroniclers that a Requiem Mass was sung and we also know that the both the King's and the Queen's chapel choirs were involved in the services. The Queen's chapel choir included Jean Mouton, Jean Richafort, Claudin de Sermisy and Pierre Moulu; the King's chapel choir was directed by Antoine Fevin and included Johannes Prioris.

Prioris, Richafort and Fevin wrote Requiem Mass settings which survive, as did those of de la Rue and Brumel though these latter were not connected with the court. Richafort's Requiem seems to be associated with the death of Josquin Deprez in 1521. We don't know which Requiem mass was sung at Anne of Brittany's obsequies. So when selecting the work, Denis Raisin Dadre chose the Requiem of Fevin because from the Sanctus onwards Fevin uses five voices, adding a second bass part.

Fevin's setting follows the Use of Paris rather than that of Rome, so that the Gradual sets the Psalms Si ambulem, Virga tua and Sitivit anima mea; there is no Dies Irae. Fevin uses the plainchant extensively, often sticking quite close and leaving the plainchant in the tenor part.

Doulce Memoire uses an ensemble of five singers; Paulin Bundgen (alto), Hugues Primard (tenor), Vincent Bouchot (baritone) and basses Marc Busnel and Philippe Roche. There’s an instrumental ensemble of seven (Eva Godard, Franck Poitrineau, Johanne Maitre, Elsa Frank, Jeremie Papaserio, Denis Raisin Dadre) playing cornet, sackbut, flute and dulcian. They mix various performance modes, ranging between unaccompanied, instruments and voices mixed and purely instruments. When using voices and instruments, not all the lines have voices as was the way in the period. De Lupus's motet Miserere Mei Domine and De La Rue's Coeurs desolees / Dies Irae are given in purely instrumental versions interpolated in the mass.

The result is intensely evocative and beautifully rendered. The singers create an ensemble in which line is paramount and the individual voices are nicely characterised whilst never compromising the whole. The plainchant combined with Fevin's rather straight harmony results in something rather sombre and dark, which develops into a remarkable richness when Fevin adds the second bass part. The singing is nicely balanced and they retain intensity for the full length of the piece; Fevin's Requiem could be quite a plain piece but Doulce Memoire ensure our interest is held.

They open with a pair of motets. Like De La Rue's Coeurs desolees / Dies Irae, Moulu's Iere attropos and Josquin Desprez's Coeur Desolez mix the sacred and secular, with one voice singing the sacred text and the others a secular one. The result is, to our ears, a funny mix but including such pieces helps us to start coming to grips with the fact that the past is certainly another country.

The group are also concerned to reflect the popular Breton support for Duchess Anne. So the polyphony is counterpointed with Breton solo songs - gwerziou, which in Breton means lament. These are sung by Yann-Fanch Kemener, a specialist in Breton monophonic songs. Kemener has a very distinctive voice which certainly contrasts with that of the singers in the ensemble and may not be quite to everyone's taste. Whilst I can appreciate the reasons behind the decision, I am not quite sure the contrast comes off. Additionally, I would rather have liked the Requiem itself broken up with some chant.

The CD booklet includes full texts and translations along with an essay about Anne of Brittany's obsequies and the music of the period. Rather wonderfully they also include contemporary illustrations of the obsequies plus the manuscript of the introit from the Requiem.

This is a lovely disc. If you are interested in Breton history then this will be essential listening. But for those of us with only a hazy grasp of such history, the disc beautifully illuminates the sacred music of the period.

Robert Hugill

Beautifully illuminates sacred Breton music of the period.