Repeated moments of pure magic
21 February 2012Diapason
With this third volume* the new series of Josquin's masses begun by the Tallis Scholars in 2008 maintains its very high level of excellence, delivering repeated moments of pure magic despite at first sight seeming to be rather exacting.
Composed around 1510 and therefore one of Josquin's three last settings of the Ordinary, the Missa De beata virgine was the most distributed and quoted mass of the 16th century. In this is an unusual paradox, since the style of it is quite distinct from the dense, abundant, agile and dynamic method of most of Josquin's other settings. The listener can find himself disorientated by the absence of both tonal and thematic unity in De beata virgine - each movement paraphrases a different plainchant and therefore a different mode - as much as by the capricious counterpoint caused by the canons between the middle voices. And then there is the unusual texture of four and then five voices (from the Credo onwards) which regularly leaves a high and often acrobatic soprano part stranded. These difficulties probably explain the thin discography of music which is so famous and yet so disparate in style. When put against the efforts of A Sei Voci (Diapason D'or in 1995) or of Paul Hillier's Theater of Voices, the more restrained tempi, expansive phrasing and gleaming soprano line of the Tallis Scholars carries the field. And, as always, the impeccable finish which characterises Peter Phillips's ensemble permits one to savour in their smallest details the intriguing meanderings of this singular work of maturity.
With the joyful Missa Ave maris stella we are on more familiar contrapuntal and rhetorical territory. The plainchant motifs which swirl through the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo flash by with a marvellous fluidity. In the immense Sanctus Josquin deploys his entire arsenal, ending in the delicious polyrhythms which are superimposed on the words 'in excelsis' in the Hosanna. Here again the panache of the two sopranos is wonderfully evident in the way they play with their line, perched above the texture and full of life, underpinned by lower parts of an intense homogeneity whose delicate phrasings and rhythmical excitements are magisterially realised by maestro Phillips. This disc sings, shines, plays. Great art.
Well-blended voices in a sonorous space. Excellent width to the sound and also very good detail. Good dynamic range.
Reproduced from Diapason. Translation: Gimell.
*This album is actually the fifth volume in The Tallis Scholars' series of Josquin Masses. Volume 1 was released in 1986 and Volume 2 was released in 1989.