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JOSQUIN Des Prez (c.1450-1521)
Adieu mes amours
Details after review
Dulces Exuviĉ [Romain Bockler (baritone), Bor Zuljan (lute)]
6-course ‘bray lute’ by César Arias, after Hans Frei (first half of 16th century), Areal 2018; 7-course lute by Ivo Magherini, after early 16th-century models, Dekani 2018 gut strings by Corde Drago
rec. Notre-Dame de Centeilles, October 2018. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as mp3 press preview with pdf booklet
RICERCAR RIC403 [62:50]

It’s easy to make a selection of the works of most renaissance poets and come to the conclusion that they were defined by being miserable, love-lorn, penniless and generally pitiable. Read only Dante’s Inferno, as most people do, without going on to the other two parts of the Divine Comedy, and you may well come to the conclusion that the author was obsessed with sin and punishment. The poet priest John Donne, ill in bed and hearing the funeral bell rung outside, gloomily assumed that it was ringing for him.

Similarly, a selection of the works of most renaissance musicians could give the impression that they were merchants of gloom. Gloom dressed up in beautiful words and music, but gloom nevertheless.  I fear that if this new Ricercar recording is your first encounter with the music of Josquin you will think him a very miserable fellow. You wouldn’t be wrong: there are plenty of examples to support the contention that he was a solitary artist who sublimated melancholy. A good selection of these are included on this recording, but it gives a partial picture of his music.

The unusual Latin name of the group suggests that they clothe the music in sweet garb as they perform it.  I won’t contest that description, but this limited selection is further limited by having as performers just a baritone and a lutenist, so that we don’t hear any of Josquin’s brighter-toned choral works in which he transforms even melancholy chansons into the soaring music of hope and faith. That happens in the Missa Fortuna Desperata, where he uses one of the tunes included on this recording as its cantus firmus, or musical base (with Missa Faisant regretz, Gimell CDGIM042: The Tallis Scholars/Peter Philips – review review).

Good as the singing and accompaniment on the new Ricercar recording are, and for all that I discovered something new in the form of the 6-course ‘bray lute’ on some of the tracks, listeners new, or comparatively new, to Josquin’s music would do much better with that Gimell recording, or one of the others in the series which they have recorded. The best value to begin with is provided by the 2-CDs-for-one The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin (CDGIM206). I had to turn to their recording of Missa Fortuna Desperata immediately after hearing the new Ricercar, to remind myself that there is another side to Josquin – even the Kyries which open the Mass soar up rather than downwards, turning the melancholy cantus firmus into something ethereal.  As for John Donne, that experience with the funeral bell prompted some of the most beautiful poetic prose in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.

Lighter moments there are on the new Ricercar, such as In te, Domine speravi, and they are well done, but there aren’t too many of them. Here, too, the limitations of two performers, one singing one of the parts, the other doing his best to weave the remaining parts into the accompaniment, are apparent by contrast with a budget-price Harmonia Mundi recording, also entitled Adieu mes amours, with Ensemble Clément Janequin and Dominque Visse (HMA1951279).

That’s a 59-minute album containing much of the same music as on the new Ricercar and it reminds us of what is lost with just one singer. The opening Douleur me bat remains a sad setting of a melancholy text, but the interweaving of the voices infuses the melancholy with beauty, despite the fact that some of the Ensemble's intonation is less than perfect.

Better still, some of these songs are included on a super-budget twofer of Josquin’s motets and chansons from The Hilliard Ensemble (Erato Veritas 5623462). There sacred and secular music, serious and lively, intermingle.   Four religious works open CD1, followed by the raucous Scaramella va a la Guerra. If only Dulces Exuviĉ had livened up their recording debut with that or El grillo, or the tender Petite camusette, to mention just three of the items on the Hilliard collection. One reservation: go for the Veritas CDs, at around £8.50, rather than the download which is more expensive even in mp3 – and don’t buy the single CD of some of these recordings, still available on its own for even more than the 2-CD download.

The Ricercar recording concludes with the beautiful Nymphes des bois, Josquin’s lament for Ockeghem and his appeal to the contemporary composers La Rue, Brumel and Compère to join him in weeping great tears for the loss of their ‘good father’. It’s movingly sung, with proper attention to what we know of French pronunciation of the time, but turn to other recordings and you obtain a fuller picture. I had some reservations about a collection of Josquin’s Funeral Motets from Cappella Amsterdam, but the first track of that recording will give you something much closer to the full picture, though the French pronunciation is far less careful and the acoustic a little too generous (Harmonia Mundi HMM902620 – Autumn 2018/3).  Ditto, on track 2, the Harmonia Mundi recording of Nimphes, nappées, which also features on track 8 of the new Ricercar. My colleagues enjoyed the Cappella Amsterdam recording even more than I did – review; Recommended – review.

I’ve mentioned the use of the ‘bray lute’ as one of the features of the new Ricercar recording. The ‘bray harp’ has become reasonably familiar to musicologists for its use in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the donkey’s braying sound achieved with the aid of wooden pins against which the strings buzz, as described in an Early Music article. The practice of using frets to achieve a similar sound on the lute is a new concept; the instrument employed on four of the tracks, including the title song, is experimental. The evidence given in the booklet for such a practice is at least feasible but I have to say that the effect is far less radical than might be imagined; it’s most noticeable on track 12, La Bernardina, but even there I didn’t look out of the window for any donkeys.

That’s one of the aspects which will make this recording appeal to specialists. The general listeners will hear some attractive music, well sung and accompanied, well recorded and presented, but they will come away with a limited idea of the music of this composer which should be corrected from one of the recordings of his music which I have mentioned. Josquin’s importance is stressed in the Ricercar notes and that is an aspect of this new recording with which I am completely at one.

Brian Wilson

JOSQUIN Des prez (c.1450-1521) Ave Maria [3:26]
Prĉambulum (improvisation) [0:32]
JOSQUIN (attrib.) Mille Regretz [2:29]
Luys de NARVÁEZ La Canción del Emperador [2’34]
JOSQUIN Regretz sans fin [5:52]
La plus des plus [9’22]
Prĉambulum (improvisation) [0:37]
JOSQUIN Nimphes napées [2:50]
Antoine Busnois/JOSQUIN Fortuna desperata [3:54]
Prĉambulum (improvisation) [0:35]
JOSQUIN Adieu mes amours [2:16]
La Bernardina [1:24]
JOSQUIN Hans GERLE En l’ombre d’ung buissonnet [3:59]
Prĉambulum (improvisation) [0:20]
Marco Dall’AQUILA Ricercar [1:40]
JOSQUIN  In te, Domine speravi [2’39]
Prĉambulum (improvisation) [0:35]
JOSQUIN Douleur me bat [4:29]
IIe fantazies de Joskin [2:10]
Quant de vous seul [5:52]
Prĉambulum (improvisation) [0:27]
Nymphes des bois [4:38]

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