Jean Mouton - Missa Dictes moy toutes voz pensées
"With a musical language quite distinct from everyone else, Jean Mouton is nonetheless often compared with Josquin on account of his astonishing technique. His music is able to convey such a spirit of calm and poise that in the whole gamut of renaissance art it is really only rivalled by the altar-pieces of such painters as Giovanni Bellini and Hans Memling." Peter Phillips
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Ever since the advent of recordings, little-known composers have had the opportunity to begin a new life following the release of a first major disc devoted to them. Any attempt to revive the reputation of Jean Mouton is of importance because, of all the brilliant representatives of Josquin's generation, it has been the discretion of Mouton, who many musicologists consider to have been the best contrapuntist of his time, which has lacked and needed a champion.
This Tallis Scholars recital confirms that the level of Mouton's inspiration, the fluency of his melodies and his mastery of the science of counterpoint, put him easily above his immediate colleagues in the French Chapel Royal of the early 1500s, which included Févin, Prioris and Divitis (already represented on disc). And arguably they also put him above some of his most famous contemporaries, like Obrecht, LaRue, Agricola and Isaac: in fact by the side of Josquin, 'Prince of Musicians'.
Certainly his genius has shone ever more brightly with each successive recording of his famous Nesciens mater for eight voices (recordings which include that monumental exercise in slow ecstasy from Gardiner on Pilgrimage To Santiago, 2004); and of several other motets of the hundred or so he is known to have written, like the grand Ave Maria for five voices (on 'O gente brunette' from L'Odhecaton, Ramée, 2009). In addition the Ensemble Jacques Moderne have dedicated a recital to him (Ligia, 2003, using voices and viols); and now very recently there is another from the Brabant Ensemble. But despite all this competition the new anthology from the Tallis Scholars, who are as inspired here as they are on their best form, brings us to a new understanding of him.
Their programme allows us finally to hear one of Mouton's fifteen masses, whose rounded and serene sonorities have enabled Peter Phillips to make a meaningful comparison between his work and the paintings of Giovanni Bellini. The motets which make up the remainder of the disc are all masterpieces. The Apollonian art of the Tallis Scholars seems to have found in Mouton's balanced and masterly counterpoint a language which exactly suits them. As in the past with Palestrina - and perhaps even more with Josquin - their singing thrills; and makes thrilling the rediscovery of a master of masters.
Diapason, reproduced with permission
Choc de Classica
It is always pleasing to discover that it is still possible for a major but little-known composer to emerge from the shadows, and in the process reveal a whole world of unsuspected masterpieces. This is now the case with Jean Mouton, whose worth will be all the better appreciated thanks to a new recording by The Tallis Scholars, which shows him to have been an important figure in the history of music. Mouton reveals himself as a composer with a profoundly original style, quite different from that of Josquin, his illustrious and almost exact contemporary. Mouton managed to unite a pronounced taste for canonic structures, always very elaborated, with a surprising suavity of melodic line - all in a polyphony of remarkable transparency. These technical refinements never cramp the feeling of naturalness and simplicity which constantly radiates from this music so that one is surprised to discover, for example, that the Missa Dictes moy toutes vos pensées, based on a chanson by Loyset Compère, is made up of a thematic web of an unparalleled density, taking and recasting all the elements of the chanson in an act of magisterial reappropriation. And if the thematic connections between the mass and its model seem constantly to be on the verge of showing through, Mouton's facility equally lulls the listener into forgetting that the mass is made up of borrowed material. The Tallis Scholars, and their perfect phrasing, adapt themselves remarkably fluently to the diversity of the effects in this dense and beautiful programme, from the simplest two-part writing to the vast edifice for double choir (Nesciens mater) without ever losing either the clarity or the tension in the writing.
Classica, reproduced with permission
Artistic Quality 10 - Sound Quality 10
The Holbein drawings of sheep (lambs, actually) on the CD cover are a charming symbolic visual nod to composer Jean Mouton, and the Tallis Scholars performances offer a first-class musical tribute to this lesser-known but eminently worthy contemporary of Josquin. What’s more, this program features some of the finest male-voice singing ever recorded by this ensemble, owing to the very compatible lineup of singers, but also to music that lies so favorably and so beautifully exploits the textural and timbral benefits of lower-register scoring.
The big work, Mouton’s Missa Dictes moy toutes voz pensées, is based on a three-voice chanson by 15th-century Flemish (or French) composer Loyset Compère, another in that class of expert and talented musicians of the period who may be obscure to today’s listeners but who was widely known in his day. And justifiably so: this is top-drawer music by any standard. As for Mouton’s Mass, in addition to its highly sophisticated canonical writing, it features an Agnus Dei II scored for three basses—a unique feature that conductor Peter Phillips found irresistible. (You’ll see just how much the performers relished this unusual focus on the oft-taken-for-granted bass voices when you flip through the liner booklet and find the trio posed in a series of shots ranging from “blues brothers” garb to businessman chic.)
Yes, there are female singers present—an alto paired with a male alto in all of the works, and two sopranos in a few of the motets—but the timbres in each case are so closely matched with the male voices, and the ranges are restricted enough, that these voices never come across as distinctly apart from the others. The five motets are all gems—not a hint of second-rate music here; especially affecting are the two Ave Marias.
For those who may be interested, Tallis Scholars baritone Donald Greig just published a novel, Time Will Tell, in which Loyset Compère plays something of a part, as do Josquin, Ockeghem, a modern British early music vocal ensemble (which happens to be named Beyond Compère), a driven yet distracted and slightly suspect American musicologist, and several other characters who live in the rarefied, inbred, and therefore very quirky world of those whose lives center around ancient manuscripts, isorhythms, canons, modes, cantus firmi, gimells, musica ficta, and other assorted ancient codes, practices, and mannerisms. The story—”of treachery, and ambition, and famous composers”—offers something of an inside, albeit very brief, look at this small world, and I can’t help but wonder how much of the story of this recording and of Greig’s Tallis Scholars experiences was filtered into his colorful and intriguing book.
Nevertheless, this latest disc is another outstanding and successful addition to Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars’ growing catalog of music that reflects, in Phillips’ words, “my ambition to put before the public Renaissance composers who deserve to be better known.” The sound, from the very agreeable acoustic of Oxford’s Merton College Chapel, couldn’t be better. Musically, vocally, and sonically, this Tallis Scholars recording stands with the best the group has ever made.
Over the last decade or so The Tallis Scholars have probably done more than any other ensemble to open my ears to the glories of Renaissance polyphony. This disc is another ear-opener. The singing is flawless, as we’ve long since come to expect from this group. Operating in their normal venue at Merton College they’ve been recorded by engineer Philip Hobbs in sound that lets the music breath and expand perfectly yet retains a fine sense of the intimacy of just eight singers in the chapel.
This is another disc of exceptional quality from The Tallis Scholars. With it Peter Phillips proves conclusively that the music of Jean Mouton is worthy of a wide audience.
5* Performance - 5* Recording
Let's overlook the punning pictures of sheep/moutons on the cover and concentrate on the choir's outstanding realisations of Mouton's wonderful music. Mouton's canon-based compositions have a refreshing airiness and transparency. This clarity is achieved notwithstanding his mathematical methods, and it's a quality that's brought out superbly by the Tallis Scholars and by the excellent recording, providing both sharp focus and a sense of spaciousness and depth.
The CD opens with Loyset Compère's chanson on which Mouton's Mass is based. This chanson is itself an elegent, delightful piece. Its inclusion helps us appreciate the skill and imagination with which Mouton weaves his developments of its three voice parts. The programme is completed by some motets and a setting of Ave Maria ... virgo serena, with some of these pieces demonstrating how Mouton could pare down his musical components and still produce dazzling beauty.
Peter Phillips's lively, highly readable notes present scholarly comments in an accessible manner. They give vivid insight into the historical context of Mouton's music.
BBC Music Magazine