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Josquin italia A489
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JOSQUIN Desprez (c1450-1521)
Giosquino: Josquin Desprez in Italia
Praeter rerum seriem [7:11]
Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae [28:36]
Tu solus qui facis mirabilia [5:00]
Fortuna d’un gran tempo [1:26]
O Virgo prudentissima [7:24]
Inviolata, integra et casta [6:15]
La Bernardina [1:22]
Salve Regina [7:49]
Huc me sydereo [7:44]
The Gesualdo Six
La Reverdie
La Pifarescha
Odhecaton/Paolo Da Col
rec. 13-17 October 2020, Abbazia di Santa Maria, Follina (Treviso), Italy
ARCANA A489 [77:17]

Of the many discs planned to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez, this is one of the more intelligently programmed and carefully curated. It uses Italian musicians (mostly) to focus on the composer’s Italian career, which explains the Italianised spelling of his name in the disc’s title. Josquin spent several spells in Italy, including singing for the pope himself in the newly inaugurated Sistine Chapel. He also served several Italian noblemen, most notably the Duke of Ferrara, which is why his great Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae is included.

I’d never come across the vocal group Odhecaton before this disc, but they create a lovely sound, clean yet rich, with a luminous quality to the top line that comes from using all male voices. The translucent quality to the sound is especially evident in the mass setting. It’s not just very beautiful, but it’s sung with transparency and great attention to the clarity of the line. All polyphony should be, of course, but they don’t all sound like this. The longer movements (the Gloria and Credo) have a great sense of structure to them; a sense of unfolding narrative, even, with episodes coloured differently, moving between melismas and blocks of chords. The Sanctus makes a virtue out of its beautifully meandering lines, and there is a dark sense of meditation and spirituality to the concluding Agnus Dei. It is in this final movement that we are treated to the extra voices of the Gesualdo Six and the (sparingly used) shawms and trombones of La Pifarescha, which turn it into a really festal culmination.

The Gesualdo Six also sing the lovely Marian motet O Virgo Prudentissima, and they colour the sound that’s pleasingly different to that of Odhecaton, creating something of complementary beauty which is augmented and amplified when their Italian colleagues join in. Their countertenor line is particularly gorgeous, bewitching in its ethereal beauty, and it adds to the beauty of the Salve Regina setting, too, which flows with mellifluous charm.

Two unusual motets end the disc. Both call for more complex settings and receive eloquent, elaborate performances. Huc me sydereo uses scales and harmonies to mirror a humanist poem that compares Christ’s crucifixion to the descent of the gods from Mount Olympus. The Inviolata motet that ends the disc is for twelve voices; a lovely choice of concluding number because it combines complexity with transparency and rich beauty. Furthermore, it grows from what feels like a close harmony madrigal at the beginning into a texture of ever-richer polyphonic intricacy, crowned by the entry of the instruments to create a burgeoning, rich culmination.

There is a big sense of space between the droning basses and sprightly countertenors in the opening Praeter rerum seriem, while Tu solus qui facis mirabilia has tightly focused beauty that’s almost like Victorian close harmony. There are even a couple of instrumental numbers to illustrate a rarely heard aspect of Josquin’s output. They’re light-hearted, delicately played, and very welcome.

I loved this disc’s unity of purpose, as well as the integration of the instruments that complements the voices. I don’t quite understand why they interpolated a motet between two movements of the mass, but if that annoys you then, obviously, it can easily be avoided by use of your skip function. The recorded sound is good, too; clear yet also resonant in the ringing acoustic of the twelfth century Cistercian abbey at Follina.

The packaging is great, too: the booklet contains the Latin texts and translations, along with an excellent essay that’s both informative and approachable.

Simon Thompson

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