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Antoine BRUMEL (c.1460-1512/13)
Mater Patris [3:30]
JOSQUIN des Prés (c.1450/55-1521)
Missa Mater Patris [31:05]
Anonymous - liturgical
Da pacem, Domine [0:42]
Noel BAULDEWEYN (c.1480-1530)
Missa Da pacem [37:04]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford. Date(s) not given.
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as 24/96 download from hyperion-records.co.uk.
Also available on CD and in 16- and 24/192 download formats.
GIMELL CDGIM052 [72:26]

Every recording released by The Tallis Scholars, usually about one a year, is a special event. This time we have had to wait just eleven months since the seventh of their projected nine CDs of Josquin’s music was released to considerable acclaim (CDGIM050: Missa gaudeaumus and Missa L’ami Baudichon review review). If I found myself very slightly less overwhelmed by that than by previous releases in the series – Autumn 2018/3 – that’s merely a reflection of the very high benchmark that the Scholars had already set. The ‘Recommended’ award for this latest album is not intended to make amends, but it does reflect the very high quality of the series overall:

- CDGIM009 : Masses Pange lingua; La sol, fa, re, mi
- CDGIM019 : Masses L’homme armé super voces musicales and L’homme armé sexti toni
- CDGIM039 : Masses Sine nomine and Ad fugam review
- CDGIM042 : Masses Malheur me bat and Fortuna desperata – review
- CDGIM044 : Masses De beata virgine and Ave maris stella review
- CDGIM048 : Masses Di dadi and Une mousse de Biscaye review – Recording of the Month review
- CDGIM206, 2 CDs for 1, The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin includes the Masses Pange lingua;La sol, fa, re, mi; L’homme armé super voces musicales and L’homme armé sexti toni (from CDGIM009 and 019). Review. See also The Tallis Scholars at 30 but NB: Gimell downloads are now provided by Hyperion.

This latest release from the Scholars brings the penultimate offering of their series of Josquin recordings. There is a small problem, however: Josquin was so famous that his name became attached to other music, as was later the case with Pergolesi. Peter Phillips introduces this new recording with a warning: ‘Our project to record all of Josquin’s Masses now runs into controversy. One of Josquin’s greatest compositions, Missa Mater Patris, is so unusual that some scholars have questioned its authorship. With Da pacem these questions become more pressing. Having been thought during the 19th century to be the most typical and perfect of all Josquin’s Masses, it has recently been shown to be by the little-known Noel Bauldeweyn. Or is it?’ You can read the rest of the detailed examination of the pros and cons on the Hyperion website by following the link above.

There’s more music by Bauldeweyn on a 2-CD recording of four masses, worth having in addition to the new Gimell because it doesn’t include Missa Da pacem, from The Beauty Farm (Fra Bernardo FB1709761). Other than that, there’s very little of his music to be had, though he makes a walk-on appearance on a Binchois Consort recording entitled Josquin and his Contemporaries (Hyperion CDA67183).

The status of Missa Mater Patris is less controversial, but that doesn’t mean that it has been over-recorded. There’s just one rival in the catalogue, from Chanticleer conducted by Joseph H Jennings on their own label (CR-8808). Like the new Gimell, it prefaces the Mass with the Brumel Mater Patris on which it’s based. It’s a fine recording, but it breaks up the Josquin with music by Agricola, concluding with the latter’s Magnificat. I thought that download-only recording worthwhile, but imagined that The Tallis Scholars or The Sixteen would be able to make a better case for it – DL Roundup May 2012/1. The maxim is to be careful what you wish for, but it doesn’t apply here; I’m pleased to report that the new recording outshines even that Chanticleer offering. I listened to the new Gimell in 24-bit sound and to the older recording only in 16-bit, but I don’t think that accounts for my preference.

I mentioned in reviewing the Chanticleer that Josquin’s authorship of Missa Mater Patris had been queried – its forthright style and extensive quotation from Brumel have led to its being assumed to be an early work. Without giving us a definitive answer – could there be one? – Peter Philips reminds us of those creative artists who have returned to a simpler style in their later works and even posits that this may have been Josquin’s last Mass setting. In that case, the references to the Brumel setting may well have been a tribute to that composer after his death.

Medieval theologians loved paradoxes and there is no greater example than the concept of Mary giving birth to her own father, the father of all mankind, Mater patris et filia, mother and daughter of the father. Brumel’s music has yet to receive the attention that it deserves and his setting can be found on only a few other recordings, notably from the Hilliard Ensemble on an all-Brumel recording (Coro COR16052 or budget-price 4-CD set with music by Pérotin and contemporaries, Ockeghem and Dufay, COR16064). I welcomed COR16052, which contains Mater patris, in October 2011/2 as a fine adjunct to The Tallis Scholars’ Brumel CD, which offers his remarkable ‘Earthquake’ Mass and other works.

I nevertheless thought the Scholars’ earlier Brumel slightly preferable to that of the Hilliards and I thought so again in the case of Mater patris, even though that isn’t the main attraction of the new Gimell recording. For some that attraction would be scholarly interest – can the prints of Josquin be found in either or both of these Masses, or what makes Bauldeweyn’s music different from his? For others it may be the desire to collect the series as it nears completion. I suppose that I must plead guilty to both of those and also to relishing Peter Phillips’ excellent notes.

It might even be the cover that attracts the potential purchaser; though only a small percentage browse CDs in a shop now, the cover is displayed online. In this case it’s a striking painting by Enguerrand Quarton, whose dates are a little earlier than Josquin’s, of the Trinity crowning Mary as Queen of Heaven. So, there’s no need to guess why it was chosen, as was the case with the lady with the mirror on the cover of CDGIM039. (Both Masses are based on canons in which the music is ‘mirrored’.)

My main reason for recommending this latest release, however, is much simpler. Whoever wrote the music, it’s both soothing and uplifting and The Tallis Scholars do it as proud as on their seven previous Josquin releases. I listened to it for the second time as I was writing this review on yet another Sunday morning when I didn’t make it to church again and I can think of no better or more spiritual substitute.

Those coming fresh to the Scholar’s Josquin should probably start with their recordings of two of his Masses, Malheur me bat and Fortuna desperata on their super-budget 4-CD Sacred Music in the Renaissance 3 (GIMBX303, download for £15.99 or £24, 16-/24-bit from Hyperion). That includes music by several other composers, including the Scholars’ most recent account of Palestrina’s Missa Papæ Marcelli for the cost of not much more than a single CD, well earning the award Bargain of the Month – review. (The CDs appear to be deleted, with silly prices being asked, but the downloads remain very good value, as does the 2-for-1 Josquin collection on CDGIM206, listed above.) Otherwise, this new release is as good a place as any to start.

What is it that makes the Tallis Scholars’ recordings in general and those of Josquin in particular so special? I could refer to their tighter ensemble than Chanticleer in Missa Mater Patris, their general clarity of tone and diction, and many other factors. Ultimately, however, it’s their sheer dedication to the music and their evident enjoyment in performing it, mirrored by our joy in hearing them that counts.

As always, the clarity of the recorded sound, especially as heard in 24-bit, adds to that enjoyment, as does the quality of the booklet. Prices start at £7.99 for mp3 or 16-bit, with 24/96 at £12 and even 24/192 a reasonable £16. Can the final volume be even better than this? I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: John Quinn




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