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GRAMOPHONE (12/2023)
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Musique en Wallonie

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Reviewer :
Edward Breen

Billed as ‘a new sound for Josquin’, Cut Circle have plenty of revolutionary zeal. But don’t let that put you off: rather than being generalised early-music defamiliarisation, it is joyfully nuanced. The obvious influence is Musica Reservata’s work in the 1970s with mezzo-soprano Jantina Noorman, who studied the techniques of various folk singers. The precision of attack and articulation from the singers of Cut Circle draws repeatedly on her sound world, particularly at emotional high points and in the secular songs; and whereas it might take a track or two to fully adjust to this bright and vivid style, it’s certainly worth that leap of faith because, coupled with Jesse Rodin’s brisk tempos, the extraordinary architecture of Josquin’s music is made delightfully clear. As part of The Josquin Research Project at Stanford University, you can see and search the digital scores used on this recording.


Opening with the famous Ave Maria … virgo serena, this album recreates an intimate environment, perhaps a private chapel hung with tapestries where, acoustically speaking, there’s nowhere to hide. With our heads right inside Josquin’s textures, it’s hard not to dance when the text mentions how heaven and earth are full of rejoicing. This flows nicely into Virgo salutiferi/Ave Maria, where Rodin’s approach to tempo is most exciting: listen for the well-etched plainsong melody (‘Ave Maria, gratia plena’) repeating in different proportions to mesmeric effect, like a chorale prelude.


The poignant three-voice Ave verum corpus may be known to listeners from The Clerks’ Group’s tender account (ASV Gaudeamus, 6/02), but here it’s rawer and more exposed when the soaring opening duet reaches upwards with a steely edge to the vocal tone. When Josquin repeats this material with an added lower voice, listen to the imploring tone on ‘vere passum immolatum’ (‘who truly suffered and was sacrificed’): stunning. The highlight of the album is Miserere mei, Deus, with its mesmeric repetitions and moving moments as the facade of prayerfulness is gradually chipped away by the singers’ hardened tone as they plead to be purged of sin.


The songs are bitingly clever and run a gamut from the uncomfortable tale of Une musque de Biscaye to the deeply moving Parfons regretz, wonderfully differentiated in tone and atmosphere from the motets. Josquin is a truly remarkable composer and Cut Circle’s superb energy is quite addictive.

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