The paraphrase masses on this release come from the second half of Josquin's career, composed probably after his return to the Netherlands following a fruitful career in Italy. The Ave Maris Stella Mass, based on the hymn by the same name, was composed before 1505 and exhibits many of the salient characteristics of his middle period: facility with canonic writing, clear imitive design that allows for individuality, and a cleverly woven fabric of vocal lines that yields a lucid harmonic structure.
The De Beata Virgine Mass is based on five different Marian chants, each one in a different mode. Josquin's flamboyant use of canon and harmony marks it as a late work, perhaps experimental, but the movements may not have belonged together originally. The 'Kyrie'and 'Gloria' are for four voices. The 'Credo', 'Sanctus', and 'Agnus Dei' each include a fifth voice that reproduces the chant in canon at the fifth. Adding to the complexity of strict canon is the shifting timbre in each movement, which results for the changing modal range governed by the chant paraphrase. Josquin's 'Cambrai Credo' uses the same method of composition. It departs in style only through the sublime use of chordal declamation to emphasize the crucial theological moment at "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto". Despite its difficulties, the De Beata Virgine Mass appears to have been his most popular, judging from its broad transmission in no fewer than 69 sources.
The Tallis Scholars are at their very best in this program. As usual, the ensemble singing is extremely refined and delicate. The singers clearly understand how to make this music sound gorgeous. Not a moment seems squandered. They reveal the nuance of Josquin's genius at every turn. Their pitch and timbre are always clear, the phrasing impeccable, the voices balanced. How could one argue with such beauty? Yet I wonder - Tallis Scholars have gotten a lot of milage (since 1973) out of their smooth, neatly proportioned, and articulate style of singing. It has been propagated by so many other ensembles that their sound has become the sound of Renaissance choral music. I love it, but I wonder whether there is another just as excellent way of singing this repertory?