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Masses L'Homme Armé; Sine nomine a3
The Clerks' Group/Edward Wickham
ASV Gaudeamus GAU 204 57'37"
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA

In a very recent review of a Wigmore Hall appearance by The Clerks' Group [S&H May 31] I predicted that their recording of Ockeghem's Missa L'homme armé, was likely to be with us soon. I have now received it for review and discovered that it was recorded last February; it would have sold like hot cakes if it had been on sale at the Wigmore Hall that night! Hearing two movements in that mixed concert setting served to reaffirm my conviction that he is really one of the greats - or is it just that I have a penchant for the 15th above the later 16th Century, as I do too for the 17th over the 18th C? So much is dependent on personal preference.

Anyway, this is a great record and there is a very special reason to purchase it. Many of the numerous Masses of the period have a basis in a tune, often a popular song, which serves as a cantus firmus underpinning the structure. Often these melodies are stretched out in augmentation and hard to recognise without the scores or very expert ears. None of them is better known than the catchy L'homme armé, a street cry which warned against invasion. It turns up everywhere, and must be one of the best known of all medieval melodies. This CD starts with a version by Robert Mouton, combining it in a rondeau Il sera pour vous, one of its earliest polyphonic settings.

It is so characterful and short a tune that in the four part Mass, which follows immediately, 'it blazes a trail through Ockeghem's polyphony so that we rarely lose sight of it'. This gives us a sure compass to steer by and makes the whole work far more approachable than many another. If you start out keeping it in mind, you will surely enjoy all the music which weaves around it. At the end of the Agnus Dei it appears, slowly, in the bass, taken down to low G to thrilling effect.

There is another delightful 3-part Mass, probably (but not so certainly) by Ockeghem, the lightening of texture making for good contrast and equal pleasure. This CD is sung and recorded up to the Clerks' Group's own high standard and should bring new understanding and new friends for this repertoire amongst non-specialist music lovers.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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