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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch


The Huelgas Ensemble are no strangers to off-thewall programmes, and this one is certainly eccentric – on paper, at least. As the last two movements of the Mass ordinary, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei were quite often paired by composers in the earlier history of polyphonic cycles, but here Paul Van Nevel presents six pairs drawn from Masses that survive complete in manuscripts copied under the direction of the master copyist Petrus Alamire. Most are new to the catalogue, their composers known only to specialists. Sticheler is especially obscure, while Champion and Forestier are perhaps best known as the composers of works formerly thought to be by Josquin. The subject of Robert de Févin’s Mass is a nice piece of misdirection, borrowing Josquin’s famous La sol fa re mi but moving mi to third place.


The disc as a whole, then, is placed under the sign of Josquin, who makes an appearance at the end, with his Mass Malheur me bat. Van Nevel’s choices are self-justifying: this gallery of pseudoJosquins is remarkable for its quality, not excepting the anonymous Mass N’avez point veu. Each individual piece has something to offer, and the whole is suffused with the dream-like quality that currently marks out the Huelgas sound. But this comes at a price: Van Nevel’s trademark doublings of the tenor voice by the sopranos (heard most clearly in the ‘Pleni’ section of Févin’s Sanctus) make the counterpoint sound even more complex than it is, and one cannot help feel that it does the composers a disservice. You might say that Josquin can cope with such treatment better than most but recordings of this particular Mass are thin on the ground, and with voices this beautiful one wishes that Van Nevel had resisted the urge to gild this particular lily. Frustrating as ever, and yet indispensable.


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