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Messes de Barcelone et d’Apt
Sacred Vocal Music from the Fourteenth Century
Messe de Barcelone (Barcelone-Bbc, MS971)
Messe d’Apt (Apt-trésor MS16bis)
Details after review.
Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard
rec. Basilique Sainte-Madeleine de Vézelay, 26-30 September 2018. DDD.
Texts and translations included.

Ensemble Gilles Binchois and Dominique Vellard here repeat the successes of their earlier recordings. If you don’t yet know Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de nostre Dame, usually regarded as the first Mass setting planned as a complete cycle, their recording of several years ago remains my benchmark and it’s available as a real bargain from Brilliant Classics in a 3-CD package of Machaut’s music, sacred and secular, and poetry, for around £10.50 – around the same price as a download, though almost three times as much from some dealers (94217). Andreas Scholl and Gerd Türk, then early in their careers, are no longer part of the line-up but the standard remains high and the distinctive style of the Ensemble is still recognisable.

The music on the new recording comes from manuscripts associated with the papal court at Avignon and the royal court of Catalonia. Only two of the composers are known, Machaut’s contemporary Philippe de Vitry, and the later and less well-known Johannes Tapissier. Though neither of these Masses seems to have been composed as a complete cycle, those who love Vellard’s recording of the Machaut will find themselves at home with the new album.

Those who favour the earthier style of singing the music of this period should look elsewhere – there must be some who do, because the recent Harmonia Mundi reissue of the Machaut from Marcel Pérès and his Ensemble Organum, which I disliked, received a five-star accolade from BBC Music Magazine (HMO8901590 – Autumn 2018/3). I have, of course, no firm evidence at all to support a preference for the smoother style of Ensemble Gilles Binchois, or Gothic Voices to name another group whom I favour in the music of this period; there's just no contest in my book.

I also liked Vellard’s earlier recording of the music of Heinrich Isaac, the 6-part Missa Virgo prudentissima, though there is also a fine recording of that from Christophorus which I thought displayed complementary virtues (EVCD023 – DL News 2016/6). That’s no longer available from, which has suffered a sad decline in the last year or so and is no longer worth subscribing to for classical music or jazz. The Isaac CD is currently out of stock from some dealers, but it can be downloaded in lossless sound for around £10, as can another enjoyable Vellard recording Fons Luminis – Sacred Music from Codex las Huelgas, c.1330 (EVCD051 – Summer 2018/1) as can the new release. Some dealers seem to have Fons Luminis on CD only, others as a download only.

None of the music on the new recording is of the same high standard as that of Machaut or Isaac; I’d recommend Vellard’s recordings of both first, but having heard either you are likely to want to add in fairly short order this recording of the Masses of Barcelona and Apt.

As on the earlier releases, Evidence Classics offer a convincing recorded sound and the notes in the booklet are helpful and informative, together with photographs of the instruments employed in the interludes, two vièles à archet (bowed vielles) and a guiterne (gittern).

The booklet doesn’t explain what is meant by a ‘Gloria avec trope’, ‘Sanctus avec trope’ or ‘Kyrie avec trope’. Before the liturgical reforms of the sixteenth century, it was common for these three sections of the Mass to be ‘troped’ with extra words, longer than the original in the case of the opening Kyries, expanding the attributes of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are several examples of this in the most common usage in England, the Sarum Missal, and these were sometimes included in musical settings. Something similar happened in the English Prayer Book in 1552 when the nine-fold Kyries were expanded into responses to the Ten Commandments and in Lutheran usage where Christmas additions were made to the Vespers canticle the Magnificat, hence the existence of two settings of this by Bach, one with and one without additions. The Sanctus of the Mass of Barcelona is the most extreme example here, expanded many times beyond its original scope; all the additions to the text are distinguished in the booklet by being placed in italics.

The Ensemble Gilles Binchois has been delighting us with recordings of medieval and renaissance music for some considerable time; that Machaut Mass was recorded in 1990. Many of their earlier recordings for Virgin Classics remain available from Erato, often as super-budget twofers. Sadly, however, some of these can now be obtained only as very expensive downloads at around £30.

Several of these Virgin releases have been mined for a recent Warner Classics 2-CD set at budget price The Da Vinci Sound, where they are joined by the likes of David Munrow’s Early Music Consort (9029550696). That’s a bit of an opportunistic piece of marketing when there is new-minted material to be had, such as Coro’s Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible (COR16171 – review), but it is well worth investigating.

Better still, however, are the Ensemble’s original albums on the one hand and their three recent Evidence recordings on the other. Of the three this may be my lowest priority, but that’s due to the appeal of its predecessors rather than any shortcomings.

This new release joins the earlier recordings from the Binchois Ensemble high in my esteem.

Brian Wilson

Messe de Barcelone (Barcelone-Bbc, MS971)
Kyrie [2:21]
Troped Gloria [7:19]
SORTES (?-?)
Credo [8:12]
Troped Sanctus [4:32]
Adoramus te (Madrid-BN, ms. 1361) [1:43]
4-part Agnus Dei (Barcelone-Bbc, MS971) [3:26]
Deus tuorum militum, 3-part hymn and plainchant (Apt-trésor MS16bis) [4:17]
Dantur officia / Quid scire, instrumental (Apt-trésor MS16bis) [1:46]
Christe redemptor omnium, hymn with alternating plainchant (Apt-trésor MS16bis) [3’27]
Philippe de VITRY (1291-1361)
Colla jugo / Bona condit, instrumental (Apt-trésor MS16bis) [2’39]
Messe d’Apt (Apt-trésor MS16bis)
Troped Kyrie [7:07]
Gloria [5:27]
Johannes TAPISSIER (c.1370-1410)
Sanctus [2:52]
Imperatrix / O Maria, instrumental [2:11]
Agnus Dei [2:13]
Juste judex, hymn (Madrid-BN, ms. 1361) [1:21]
Ave maris stella, Marian hymn (Apt-trésor MS16bis) [2:37]

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