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Desprez laments GCDP32117
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Josquin DESPREZ (c. 1450-1521)
Josquin the Undead: Laments, Deplorations and Dances of Death
Musae Jovis (Benedictus Appenzeller) [7:22]
Graindelavoix/Björn Schmelzer
rec. 8-12 June 2021, Banna, Poirino, Italy
GLOSSA GCDP32117 [78:18]

I last came across Graindelavoix with their recording of Orazio Vecchi’s Requiem (review), and was of course intrigued to hear what they would make of Josquin Desprez. The cover art for this release, turning that 1611 woodcut portrait of Josquin into a pirate skull, wouldn’t be out of place in a shop that specialises in hard rock music. Don’t be put off. The subtitle for the programme is ‘laments, deplorations and dances of death’, and from the outset with some of the vocal freedoms and expressive extremes of that glorious Musae Jovis, you know you are in for something different, and something a bit special.

Graindelavoix describes itself as “much less an early music ensemble and much more an art collective experimenting between the fields of performance and creation, comprising singers and instrumentalists led by Björn Schmelzer… Schmelzer works with singers and instrumentalists who embrace diversity, heterogeneity, ornamentation and improvisation in their music-making. In many ways, an ethno-musicological approach to early music.” Comparable to the way Rolf Lislevand freed himself from some of the conventions and restrictions of early music performance in his Nuove musiche album (review), so do Björn Schmelzer and his musicians in this recording. You can of course adapt and instrument your interpretations of Renaissance music to sound like almost anything, but this recording is convincing in the way it often connects the French sophistication of Josquin’s music to more Mediterranean influences. The lute and cittern accompaniments have an effect on this, but it is more the voices, at times ringing out like a muezzin call from a minaret, that take us to more sunlit climes than we might have expected with such repertoire.

Taking the place of passing notes in places, some of the vocal swooping in these performances may not be to everyone’s taste, but the expressive intent is unmistakable and intonation is impeccable. As you might expect, many of these laments are slow in tempo, and it is not until track 6 and Petite Camusette that this spell is truly contrasted with the energy of a rhythmic dance, or “the struggles of the soul likened to the waves at sea.” Schmelzer’s booklet notes fully acknowledge the indulgences of the main thread through this programme: “The other songs are lethargic, one might say depressed, staging the stickiness (Klebrigkeit) of the death drive, as Freud called it. No surprise that the narrator of the stickiest piece, Douleur me bat, a staging of pure inertia, at last begs for detachment (decoller), which should be understood not as a decapitation (as it is often translated), but as an ungluing.”

The dark humour underlying the linguistic labyrinths to be found in the booklet is something of an element in these performances. I find them far from depressing, but you can expect such an immersion in deploration to have its effect. These are voices that really lament, daring to go further beyond the singing of notes on the page than any other recordings I can recall. If you need convincing have a listen to the remarkable Nymphes des bois, “ of two legendary Josquin laments… that (impossibly) articulate personal sorrow through mise en abyme, while evoking the emblematic figure of the nymph… who, in the Renaissance, embodied the professional weepers of antiquity.”

Björn Schmelzer’s approach, “being faithful to music of the past [by] engaging with its historicity [and] articulating precisely what is at odds with it, consciously or unconsciously…” is something of a mind-mangle in such descriptions, but the results speak for themselves eloquently enough. The suitably resonant recording is very fine, and all sung texts are printed in the booklet in French and with English translations. There is much moving beauty to be experienced here, and if you want to hear Josquin stretched into something that speaks very directly with emotional weight from the past to the present, then this is a strikingly stirring place to linger.

Dominy Clements

Musae Jovis (Nicolas Gombert) [7:37]
Baisiez moy [5:37]
Parfons regretz [6:22]
Cueur langoreulx [3:12]
Faulte d'argent [3:28]
Petite Camusette [2:19]
Douleur me bat [4:46]
N'esse pas un grant desplaisir [1:19]
Si vous n'avez autre desir (Jean le Brun) [1:31]
Nymphes des bois [8:30]
O mors inevitabilis (Hieronymus Vinders) [5:07]
Se congie prens [2:22]
Plusieurs regretz [3:06]
Je me complains [1:36]
Pour souhaitter [2:28]
Nimphes, nappes [4:46]
Regretz sans fin [6:34]

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