Josquin: Masses/Tallis Scholars

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Since The Tallis Scholars are no strangers to Josquin, and since in the last couple of years the ensemble has repackaged some of its earlier releases, I had to check to make sure this was in fact a brand new release–and it is, the fourth CD in the group’s projected complete Josquin Mass cycle. The Tallis Scholars’ previous Josquin recordings have justly garnered wide acclaim–and even a couple of prestigious awards–and here’s another one worthy to join that company.

Both of these works, based on secular polyphonic chansons and accurately described by conductor Peter Phillips as “two of the finest to come from any pen,” sport formidable Agnus Dei movements that could stand alone as ideal representations of Josquin’s most ingeniously complex compositional style. They are also irresistibly affecting, leaving the listener with unmitigated confirmation of their creator’s complete mastery of his craft (Phillips provides some enlightening analysis in his informative liner notes) as well as his uncommon sensitivity to the Mass’ spiritual import. The Agnus Dei of the Missa Fortuna desperata, with its rich-textured scoring for lower voices (no superius part), makes a soul-stirring impression that demands repeated hearing.

As we expect by now, the Tallis Scholars offer first-class ensemble-work (informed by uncompromising scholarship) in characteristically ingratiating performances that always leave us satisfied that we’ve just heard the most exacting and sincerely “authentic” rendition possible by modern singers–and given that neither of these Masses has been oft-recorded, here we have the additional assurance of near-exclusivity. When you hear this music you are transported: there is no modern equivalent to the soaring melodic lines, the complex polyphonic textures, or to the music’s deeply entwined, signature religious character. This is music that moves listeners on the same deeply spiritual level as Bach’s greatest works, and it certainly deserves to be heard more widely (if only there were readily available performing editions!). The sound, from one of this group’s favored venues–the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford–is just perfect. Don’t hesitate. [4/17/2009]

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

JOSQUIN DES PRÉS - Missa Malheur me bat; Missa Fortuna desperata

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