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The musical importance of Josquin Desprez (c1450/551521) cannot be overstated, yet several of his Masses are still not well represented on record. This new release brings The Tallis Scholars’ total to 14 and includes the seldom-heard Missa L’ami Baudichon. As ever, Peter Phillips and his singers bring confidence and elegance to Josquin’s music; and, as Caroline Gill and I recently discussed (Classics Reconsidered, 12/16), the consistency of vision since their 1987 Josquin is remarkable.
This new album follows a familiar format: two Masses in contrasting styles, presented by an all-vocal consort of 8‑10 singers. In fact, it’s that very consistency of approach that is so useful when surveying Josquin’s staggering output. In Missa L’ami Baudichon, often considered the earliest due to the Dufay‑esque use of a fragmentary cantus firmus, it’s quite amazing how much material Josquin builds around a tune as simple as ‘Three blind mice’. Revisiting the earlier recording by Peter Urquhart and Capella Alamire (Dorian, 11/95) I am struck by the dominating tone of their instrumental cantus firmus (sackbut) compared to the lightness of Peter Phillips’s tenors. As ever with The Tallis Scholars, interpretative gestures are subtle but flowing: listen for the deliciously wellcontrolled gush of excitement, a brass band climax in miniature, at Josquin’s triumphal Credo ending, ‘et vitam venture saeculi, Amen’. They find a wonderful sway in the garlands of polyphony and a sense of expectance in the tenors’ long final note.
Conversely, Missa Gaudeamus is almost certainly a middle-period work, and I am charmed by how the opening of the plainchant model presents a joyfully wide rising interval which permeates the polyphonic texture. The Tallis Scholars allow much light to filter through Josquin’s complex textures and they clearly delight in his beautifully spacious three-part setting of ‘Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua’. Their sound may have softened slightly with a new generation of singers but it suits Missa Gaudeamus particularly well. This disc is surely one of their best recent releases.
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