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JOSQUIN Des Prés (c.1450-1521)
Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie (1503/4? ed. Timothy Symons) [27:29]
Missa d’ung aultre amer (ed. Thomas Noblitt), including Tu solus qui facis mirabilia and D’ung aultre amer (ed. Bonnie Blackburn) [17:52]
Missa Faysant regretz (ed. Timothy Symons) [26:18]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. 2019?, Merton College Chapel, Oxford
Texts and translations included; scores of Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariæ and Missa Faysant regretz available from gimell.com.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk. Also available in 16-bit, 24/176.4 and on CD.
GIMELL CDGIM051 [71:36]

All good things must come to an end, and this ninth release in the Tallis Scholars’ series of recordings of the Masses of Josquin is it. Indeed, the Latin from which the word ‘series’ is derived includes the concept of ending. Theologians may speculate what lies beyond – and Josquin and others set the motet Præter rerum seriem, beyond the end of things – but not even The Tallis Scholars can do miracles and give us more than exists, though they have recorded the Josquin setting of those words and the Mass by Cipriano de Rore based on it (the de Rore on The Tallis Scholars sing Flemish Masters Gimell CDGIM211, the Josquin motet on The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin, CDGIM206, both 2-CD sets for the price of 1). The only good news is that, having completed the Josquin magnum opus, they can now concentrate on other composers.  Despite their name, there’s even some Tallis which they haven’t recorded.

That Rore Mass was released as long ago as 1994, since when Gimell’s CDGIM catalogue numbers have advanced only slowly from 029 to 051. That’s slightly less than one new recording a year, which has been their average in recent years, meaning that they give themselves time to absorb the music into their repertoire before setting it down on record. Their rivals may proceed at a faster rate, and there may even be occasions when I slightly prefer another recording, but you can guarantee that the Scholars will deliver the goods.

As it happens, there are other recordings of all three Masses on this final CD. An Erato Veritas budget-price twofer includes the Missa Hercules, performed by the Hilliard Ensemble and Paul Hillier, together with his motets and chansons (5623462). That’s a splendid bargain at around £7 on disc – ridiculously, even the mp3 download is more expensive, the lossless more expensive still; worse still, one dealer is asking both £6.51 and £20.69 for the CDs. Choose carefully.

There’s an even better bargain in that the same recording is included in an 8-CD set Franco-Flemish Masterworks, mainly of music by Josquin, Lassus and Ockeghem (6025322: Bargain of the Month – DL News 2014/10: 8 CDs). Once again, the lossless download costs more than the 8-disc set and comes without booklet; Amazon UK have the CDs for £15.88 and £42.71 – you know which to buy. Having obtained it, you can lose yourself for hours on end in this superb music, almost oblivious to the passage of time.

If there’s a musical equivalent of chain smoking or binge drinking, that Hilliard set could be it – but healthier. Good as the Hilliards are here and in just about everything they touched, the same applies to  the Tallis Scholars, right back to their first recording of Palestrina’s Missa Papæ Marcelli, with Allegri Miserere and Mundy Vox Patris cælestis – on budget-price Gimell GIMSE401 (around £6.50) or the high-res remastered version (CDGIM639, download only, in 16/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 formats from hyperion-records.co.uk: Recommended – review).

Written for Ercole d’Este I of Ferrara, for whom Josquin worked from 1503-4, the Missa Hercules turns the duke’s name back to its Latin root in the title, the name of the classical hero Hercules. The music translates the vowel of each syllable into its equivalent on the Guidonian hand, a kind of early tonic sol-fa in which the fingers were used to represent different notes. Thus Her = re (D), cu = ut (C), les = re again, etc. This theme, repeated 47 times, mostly by the tenors, becomes the cantus firmus or underlying musical basis of the Mass, instead of employing a sacred or secular tune, as in some of Josquin’s other Masses. Better not tell the vainer politicians of our own time, who hear their name uttered – or vilified – by our 24/7 media; they may want their names incorporated in music.

On paper, translating the name Hercules into music may sound as bizarre as composing a Mass based on a game of dice – Josquin did that in the Missa di Dadi – or as potentially boring as the academic exercise involved in Josquin’s two mirror Masses, Missa sine nomine and Missa ad fugam. Indeed, in the hands of a lesser composer we might well have ended up with a tediously repetitive work – but we don’t, in any of these masses. In fact, you have to work to spot the theme when it appears, just as you have to listen hard for the cantus firmus, where employed, in any renaissance Mass worth its salt. As performed by the Tallis Scholars, there’s good reason to regard this Mass as the main interest on this album – and the crown both of Josquin’s achievement and of the Tallis Scholars’ series.

I certainly shall not be casting out the Hilliard Ensemble’s recording, but the Tallis Scholars score by giving the music just a little longer to express itself in every section, and especially so in the concluding Agnus Dei. Until Cranmer switched the Gloria to the end of the English Holy Communion service in 1552, presumably so that everything might end on a more joyful note, the Agnus Dei always ended the Mass in a mood of quiet and prayerful reflection, and that’s what the Tallis Scholars give us. By a piece of careful programming, Cranmer achieved the same effect – the closing words of the Gloria contain the same prayer to the Lamb of God as the Agnus Dei – but he lost the sense of a quiet ending.

Though the Scholars are generally inclined to a broader pace, they take us through the opening threefold Kyries slightly more speedily than the Hilliards. Renaissance composers didn’t always set this section, but when they did, they rarely made it sound as penitential as the words imply. Classical settings of the Mass by Haydn and Mozart are even less inclined to sound penitential – in Mozart’s case, his Salzburg Masses had to be short and sweet because the prince-archbishop wanted to be off hunting.

There’s just one other generally available recording of the Missa d’ung aultre amer, a fine version from Alamire and David Skinner (Obsidian CCLCD701 or OBSIDCD-701, prefaced by the Ockeghem motet D’ung aultre amer and with other music by Josquin). That’s now download only, or it can be streamed from Naxos Music Library, unless you are prepared to pay the £64.40 being asked on Amazon UK for a used CD copy. I reviewed three other recordings in November 2011/1, with a distinct preference for De Labyrintho (Stradivarius STR33862); not available on CD, their recording can be streamed from Naxos Music Library (no booklet). Now, however, especially with wider availability, the Tallis Scholars become my top recommendation.

In that same edition of Download News, I made GDGIM044, Josquin’s Missa de beata virgine and Missa Ave Maris Stella my Download of the Month. I also welcomed a Decca Oiseau-Lyre recording of Missa Faysant Regretz, with Missa di dadi (4759112), a recording made in 1984 by the Medieval Ensemble of London with Peter and Timothy Davies. Presto have reissued this as one of their special CDs – twice over, also with the catalogue number 4119372 – and it can be downloaded in lossless sound for around £9 or streamed from Naxos Music Library (no booklet). The Missa di dadi is regarded by some as of doubtful authenticity, but that doesn’t prevent both the Decca recording and that on the sixth of The Tallis Scholars’ series (CDGIM048, with Missa Une mousse de Biscaye review: Recording of the Month – review) from sounding very good. It goes almost without saying that the new Gimell recording replaces the Oiseau-Lyre Missa Faysant Regretz, good as that is, just as CDGIM048 became my top choice for Missa di dadi.

Between John Quinn and myself, we seem to have used up all the superlatives even by the time that we each reviewed CDGIM048 in 2016. I had no hesitation in prefacing this latest review with the Recommended logo – awarded for the whole series and its individual components, including this latest addition. I need only list the other eight volumes with a firm recommendation to buy the lot – I’ve itemised them with links to Hyperion, where they can be found as downloads (16-bit lossless for volumes 1 and 2, 16- and 24-bit for the later) and on CD.

- Volumes 1 and 2 are best obtained on the 2-for-1 The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin: CDGIM206 - Missa Pange lingua, Missa La sol fa mi re, Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales, Missa L’homme armé sexti toni, Præter rerum seriem, etc. – review
- Missa Sine nomine and Missa Ad fugam: CDGIM039 - Recording of the Month: review.
- Missa Malheur me bat and Missa Fortuna desperata: CDGIM042 review
- Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella: CDGIM044 review
- Missa Di dadi and Missa Une mousse de Biscaye: CDGIM048 – Recording of the Month: review
- Missa Gaudeamus and Missa L’ami Baudichon: CDGIM050 review
- Missa Mater Patris and Noel Bauldeweyn: Missa Da pacem: CDGIM052: Recommended – review review.

I mentioned that listening to the 8-CD Hilliard Ensemble set was addictive in the healthiest possible way, except that sitting and listening to it may get in the way of necessary exercise. The same is equally true of these nine Gimell recordings – it’s very tempting to string them all together and play them in a continuous loop.

I ended my review of CDGIM052 by asking if the final volume could be as good or even better. I don’t like nominating ‘best buys’, but the new recording would certainly be as good a place as any to get to know these wonderful recordings.

Right from the start, the recordings of the Tallis Scholars have been carefully curated by Steve Smith. The hi-res reissue of their first recording would have been pointless if the material had not been there in the first place; that was apparent even from the Classics for Pleasure cassette on which I bought it back in the early 1980s in a sale, and it’s even more apparent from the 24-bit refurbished release (CDGIM639 – see above). It’s almost as superfluous to add that the new recording, as heard in 24/96 or 24/192 sound, is splendid.

Gimell recordings have been sitting comfortably on the Hyperion website as the prime source for downloading them and a good way to buy them on CD for some time now. The two labels have long shared very high values in production and presentation, and the quality, including the booklet can equally be taken for granted in both cases. I sometimes find myself having to renumber or rename files downloaded from other sources to get them to play properly, or discovering that there is no booklet, both of which can be very irksome – I’ll mention no names – but that’s never a problem with Hyperion downloads of their own recordings or those from Gimell and other labels. You even find the cover picture embedded in the track information, so that it displays automatically.

Where now for the Tallis Scholars? Wherever they are bound, I shall continue to follow their progress with great interest. Meanwhile, this final shot in their Josquin locker may well be joining my choice of Recordings of the Year. Last year, I was covinced that the hi-res reissue of the Tallis Scholars’ first recording would make the draw, but, in the end, six superb new releases forced it out of the running.  This year I already have one or two candidates on the short-list, including the Linn reissue of Sir Charles Mackerras’ two 2-CD sets and a single CD of the late Mozart symphonies and Requiem as a 5-CD set. Then, I think, Vladimir Jurowski in Shostakovich, either with Alina Ibragimova in the violin concertos (Hyperion) or in Symphony No.11 with the LPO on their in-house label. The new Gimell, the crowning achievement of a superb cycle, will almost certainly join these.

Brian Wilson




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