Loyset COMPÈRE (c1454-1518) Dictes moy toutes voz pensées [1:50]
Jean MOUTON (bef. 1459-1522) Missa Dictes moy toutes voz pensées [38:18]; Quis dabit oculos? [8:35]; Ave Maria – benedicta tu [2:11]; Salva me, Domine [2:31]; Ave Maria - virgo serena [9:33]; Nesciens mater [4:54]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford. DDD
Original texts, English, French, German translations included
GIMELL CDGIM047 [67:54]
A little while ago, when I interviewed Peter Phillips and Steve Smith to mark the 30th anniversary of Gimell Records they mentioned that a disc devoted to the music of Jean Mouton would be forthcoming in due course. Here it is. By a curious coincidence it’s only recently that The Brabant Ensemble and Stephen Rice issued what I think is the first disc devoted entirely to Mouton’s music. That’s a Hyperion release and, in its download format, it was well received by Brian Wilson. Happily there’s only one piece that is common to both the Hyperion and Gimell programmes – Mouton’s best-known work, Nesciens mater – so collectors of Renaissance music who wish to investigate Mouton in some detail are extremely well served.
There’s no doubt that Peter Phillips is an enthusiast for Mouton’s work. He writes in his notes that Mouton’s music “is able to convey such a spirit of calm and poise that in the whole gamut of Renaissance art it is really only rivalled by the altar-pieces of such painters as Giovanni Bellini and Hans Memling.”
Nesciens mater is deservedly the piece by which Mouton’s name is kept before the public these days for this 8-voice motet is a splendid composition and it receives a dedicated performance here, the two four-part choirs nicely differentiated. However, this programme proves that Mouton’s music deserves more general recognition.
The Mass, which forms the core of this programme, is based on a 3-voice (ATBar) chanson by Loyset Compère who, Peter Phillips says, Mouton probably replaced as a canon of the cathedral at St. Quentin on Compère’s death; both men are buried there. As Phillips points out, in the Mass setting Mouton uses each of the three musical lines in Compère’s chanson as if it were a separate tune. Thus, I suppose, he derives three themes from the same source. The Mass is scored, in the main, for ATBarB. However, an extra tenor part is added for the ‘Pleni sunt caeli.’ More remarkably, Mouton scores his second Agnus Dei just for three bass voices. This scoring is believed to be unprecedented in Renaissance polyphony. It gives a most unusual vocal colouring, which I think I’d describe as nut-brown.
The rest of the Mass is just as impressive and the fact that altos take the top line with two low-voice parts gives a dark richness to the choral textures. One feels the benefit of a strong – but not overdone – bass line in passages such as the opening pages of the Gloria. This is fluid, forward moving music and the singing of The Tallis Scholars is really exciting. They keep every strand of Mouton’s writing very clear. The pace slows at ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ and remains so for the rest of the movement. In the Credo one has the feeling that the music is simply pouring out; only at ‘ex Maria virgine’ does Mouton’s flow slow down. At the ‘Crucifixus’ a trio for two altos and a baritone begins. Conventionally one might expect the full ensemble to rejoin the fray at ‘Et resurrexit’ but intriguingly – and effectively – Mouton stays with his three voices, though the pace increases for the Resurrection and Ascension, holding back the re-entry of the remaining singers for ‘Et iterum venturus est’, which signals a virtuoso ending. After that burst of energy the Sanctus unfolds majestically and expansively while the Agnus Dei is slow and solemn. I infer from Peter Phillips’ note that this is one of some fifteen Masses by Mouton. It’s a very fine one and The Tallis Scholars have done it – and Mouton – proud.
Mouton served under the patronage of Anne, Duchess of Brittany (1477-1514). She married the French king, Louis XII, in 1499 and this union brought Mouton into service at the French court. In that capacity one presumes he would have been called upon to write some ceremonial music and the motet Quis dabit oculos? is one such example. In fact it’s a motet mourning the death of his patron, Queen Anne. Scored for ATTB it’s a grave, dignified piece. The music is very beautiful – and it’s superbly sung here. Though the tone is restrained and noble one senses that the piece is deeply felt and that its composition was more than just an obligation of office.
There are two Marian pieces. Of these Ave Maria - virgo serena is much the larger in scale. Where Ave Maria – benedicta tu is a comparatively simple setting (ATTB) its companion is more richly scored (SATTB) and sets a much longer text. The music in this extended piece unfolds spaciously and has a timeless quality. It’s a devotional piece, the quality of which is essentially gentle and dignified. I simply loved this; The Tallis Scholars give a characteristically poised and polished performance of what is, I feel, an outstanding piece.
Over the last decade or so The Tallis Scholars have probably done more than any other ensemble to open my ears to the glories of Renaissance polyphony. This disc is another ear-opener. The singing is flawless, as we’ve long since some to expect from this group. Operating in their normal venue at Merton College they’ve been recorded by engineer Philip Hobbs in sound that lets the music breath and expand perfectly yet retains a fine sense of the intimacy of just eight singers in the chapel.
This is another disc of exceptional quality from The Tallis Scholars. With it Peter Phillips proves conclusively that the music of Jean Mouton is worthy of a wide audience.
John Quinn
A disc of exceptional quality, proving conclusively that the music of Jean Mouton is worthy of a wide audience.