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GRAMOPHONE (November / 2017)
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ECM 4811463


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Reviewer:  Fabrice Fitch

Polyphony in the Renaissance was performed in all sorts of ways, from a profusion of voices and instruments to a single lutenist or a lone singer accompanying him or herself on a string instrument. Modern-day specialisation being what it is, the latter configuration is usually divided between two performers, but it’s not often presented on disc. John Potter leads a hand-picked ensemble in an exploration of how such an approach might have sounded. The centrepiece is a Mass by Victoria, offset by a selection of motets mostly by Josquin. Usually just one voice is involved but at times Potter is joined by Anna Maria Friman.  

The result is most stimulating, particularly in the Mass, where the tenor part is sung on its own. Whereas in an all vocal performance the focus can rest on the top line, here one becomes aware just how well crafted all of Victoria’s lines are. In the motets, things are more mixed: where the original scoring is more generous, one loses a little detail in the vihuela part and the voices’ material is a touch more constrained. Some local decisions are puzzling, for example the sudden introduction of the mezzo-soprano in the middle of the Sanctus or that of the tenor after the break in Nymphes des bois. Those who recall the rhythmic freedom of Jacob Heringman’s solo CD of Josquin intabulations may find the overall approach overly restrained or corseted, but as one who feels that performance practice of this period could do with renewal, I’m loath to find fault (particularly when the sound image is so compelling). Speaking of which, the only discordant note is in the booklet notes, which suggest that musical scholarship en bloc is allergic to such imaginary re‑creations; it’s a straw-man argument, the needlessly defensive tone at odds with the confidence on show in the actual performances.

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