The Original Harmonia Mundi Musique d’Abord LP series
was a decidedly economical venture, in plain white sleeves like
78s and with a printed paper insert containing notes. Though
it included some very desirable performances, such as that of
the Deller Consort in the Prague Easter Play, a dealer – yes,
there used to be such beings – once told me that people were
wary of buying what looked like a cheap offering. On CD the
series has hitherto looked elegant rather than cheap and has
continued to offer much more than basic repertoire in reliable
performances – often much more than reliable.
Now Musique d’Abord has been revamped in bright colours
but once again in economy packaging, a simple tri-fold cardboard
sleeve, slimmer than the usual for such packages since the CD
is contained not on a plastic tray but slid into a pocket. The
disc itself is black on both sides, with the label side made
to resemble a miniature LP – where have we seen that before?
The notes are easily missed because they reside in another pocket.
The economy, unfortunately, affects the value of the offering,
since the tri-lingual notes are very sparse – not even Richafort’s
presumed dates, for which I was indebted to Hyperion (below)
until I saw them in small grey print not in the booklet on the
back cover – and the promise of texts from harmoniamundi.com
had not borne fruit at the time of writing. I’ve even had to
guess at the date of the recording from the information (P)
2002 and the fact that the original CD appeared in March of
that year. As for the illustration from the Rusconi Codex to
which Paul van Nevel refers in the notes, that’s no longer included.
Actually we know very little about Richafort but in compensation
the notes concentrate on guiding us through the music. What
really matters is the quality of that music, performance and
recording and the fact that there is only one other recording
of Richafort’s Requiem for Josquin, a recent arrival
from Cinquecento on Hyperion (CDA67959 – review
and August 2012_1 Download Roundup).
Apart from the opening Requiem æternam, where the time
difference is due to the Paul van Nevel’s failure to repeat
the opening words, Cinquecento take all the sections of the
Mass slightly more quickly than the Huelgas Ensemble; there
is consequently a greater sense of grief and grandeur from the
latter, though it’s not overdone. In fact, oddly enough, their
performance of the first motet which follows, lætamini in
Domino, though a setting of a joyful text (Rejoice in the
Lord), actually sounds more stately than the Communio
of the Mass, Lux æterna which precedes it on track
7. That’s not inappropriate since, despite the words of the
text, the music is more intense than Purcell’s joyous response
to the same words in the ‘Bell’ Anthem.
For the Requiem I could be happy with either performance;
the more sumptuous presentation and documentation of the Hyperion
comes at a higher price, around twice that of the Harmonia Mundi,
which you should be able to find for around £5, though it’s
possible to save on the Hyperion by downloading in mp3 or CD-quality
flac, complete with the de luxe booklet and texts, for £7.99.
(There’s also a better-than-CD 24-bit version for £12.) Don’t
try to download the Harmonia Mundi recording; it’s likely to
cost more than the CD!
The motets, sacred and secular, make an attractive coupling
whereas Hyperion have music by Josquin and other contemporaries.
Only on track 12, the jolly Tru, tru, trut avant, il fault
boire, did I think that the Huelgas Ensemble were a little
too large for the music, losing some of the jollity thereby
– would a large crowd of drunkards ever sound so disciplined?
In this motet, too, the recording, otherwise very good, sounds
a little too reverberant. This track is available to sample
and there’s an online score here.
If you are looking for a cross-section of Richafort’s music,
well performed and recorded, you need look no further than this
Harmonia Mundi reissue. Its rival on Hyperion is a little more
sprightly in the Requiem and comes with better documentation,
but at a higher price and with music by other contemporaries
rather than with Richafort’s own music which completes the Harmonia