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JOSQUIN Desprez (c.1450-1521)
Le Septiesme Livre de Chansons (1545)
Ensemble Clément Janequin/Dominique Visse
rec. February 2020, Théâtre élisabéthain du Château d’Hardelot
RICERCAR RIC423 [61.14]

Now I know what you’re thinking: Josquin did not produce any madrigal books let alone seven of them, but hold on, the title is a little misleading. This book was published in Antwerp twenty years after the composer’s death, by the indefatigable Tylman Susato, who presented Josquin’s most famous twenty-four songs in one book, his seventh publication. He heads the book “Composed by the late, well remembered and very excellent musician Josquin des Prés” (sic). Josquin’s genius, then, was still recognised and he was selling even when he might have been forgotten. We also have pieces collected here by his contemporaries and pupils based on Josquin’s chansons or motets written in his memory.

It has to be admitted that the publication differs sometimes from the surviving manuscripts or from versions you might know from elsewhere. One example is Baises moy ma doulce’ amye. You may well know another version, which seems to consist of slightly different harmonies and part-writing. I have to say that this is also the least convincing performance on the disc; it is disappointingly mournful and fails to match the deliciously ambiguous text, which should at least lead to a rather coquettish presentation. “Kiss me my darling/For love I beg you”. “No, I shall not, and here’s why….”

It’s generally agreed that Josquin had been a pupil of Johannes Ockeghem (d.1497) not least because of the wonderful and oft-recorded lament Josquin wrote on his death, Nymphes de bois, which ends this disc. We also have Ma bouche rit et mon cueur pleure which I am sure, although the otherwise very perceptive booklet essay by Isabelle His does not really say so, is based not only on Ockeghem’s quite well-known Ma bouche rit et ma pensée pleure, but also quotes its opening phrase, embedded in the busy counterpoint and heard in fragments throughout.

Thinking of teacher/pupil relationships, it is also quite likely that the very moving memorial motets recorded here, by Hieronymous Vinders, O mors inevitabilis and Nicolas Gombert, Musae Jovis are works by Josquin’s pupils.

Josquin’s music may not be as well-known as it deserves, as amateur groups, for example, can find it rhythmically challenging. That, however, does not apply to Mille Regretz, one of the many songs - several of which have been recorded here - in which the composer focuses on loss and doubt. This is largely a homophonic piece with a distinct ’tune’ in the top part (the superius). It was clearly popular in his lifetime, as witnessed by the many instrumental variants written and indeed published that are based on it. We are treated to two fine examples played instrumentally on this CD, one by a spinet and one for lute. These and a portative organ are the only instruments used for this recording. The memorable La Bernadina appears to have been written deliberately as a three-part instrumental piece, heard here, delightfully, on lute and portative organ.

The Ensemble Clément Janequin for this disc consists of five singers. They have recorded Josquin’s secular pieces before, way back in 1988 with somewhat different personnel (on HMC 901279) but their approach has not altered that much. They like a strong, forward, and confident tone quality with very clear diction, preferring that to tonal beauty if needs be. Some songs, like the five-part and quite outspoken Faulte d’argent, definitely benefit from that approach; others, like the dark Douleur me bat, need more sensitivity, and mostly these contrasts are well realised.

However, it must be said that melancholia - a sort of impassioned melancholy - seems to seep through the music and certainly the texts Josquin employs. The opening song is one of the longest of Josquin’s secular works, Regretz sans fin, which includes the lines “endless regret I must endure/and resign myself to perpetual mourning”. You’ll be glad to know, however, that there are a few light-hearted ‘naughties’ amongst the songs like Allegez moy doulce plaisant brunette which explains “Relieve me, sweet pretty/below the belly-button”. This, like so much of Josquin is cleverly canonic and you will pick out canonic writing throughout the disc.

Although this may not be my favourite Josquin disc, I shall turn to it quite often. It is probably one of the many going to emerge during this, the 500th anniversary of his death, which will fall in late August.

Gary Higginson

Regretz sans fin il me fault endure [6.04]
Allegez moy dolce plaisant brunette [2.00]
Douleur me bat [3.11]
Je me complains de mon amy [3.11]
Coeur langereulx [1.38]
Petite Camusette a la morte [1.02]
Plus nulz regretz [3.12]
Du mien amant [6.00]
La Bernadina [2.40]
Faulte d’argent [1.53]
Baises moy ma doulce amye [3.40]
Ma bouche rit e mon cueur pleure [2.57]
Parfons regretz et lamentable joye [2.26]
Tenez moy en voz bras [1.57]
Nymphes de bois [4.23]
Luis de NARVAEZ (c.1490-1547)
Mille Regretz
Nicolas GOMBERT (1495-1560)
Musae Jovis [5.41]
Hieronymous VINDERS (c.1510-1550)
O mors inevitabilis [2.54]
Hans NEWSIDLER (1508-1563)
Mille regretz

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