Gimell has issued several twin-disc releases in the past, some of
which have been devoted to the music of a single composer, including
Palestrina (CDGIM 204) and Tallis (CDGIM 203). This Josquin set draws
on the series of recordings of his Masses by The Tallis Scholars and
provides an excellent introduction both to that evolving series and
to the music of this Flemish Master.
The two Masses on Disc One in this present collection first appeared
on CD GIM 009 (review).
That’s a particularly important disc in the history of The Tallis
Scholars for with it they won the Record of the Year award from Gramophone
magazine in 1987. That was the first time that an early music disc
had received that accolade and it was not until 2010 that another
early music recording was similarly recognised. The performances -
and the music - are highly distinguished.
Missa Pange Lingua is based on a paraphrase of the plainchant
hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi and on the disc the hymn itself
is sung before we hear the Mass. Peter Phillips says in his notes
that this Mass has been described by one scholar as ‘a fantasy
on a plainsong’. As I commented in my review of the original
disc, the sheer variety, indeed flamboyance, of Josquin’s four-part
writing is quite amazing. The performance is meticulous and, as ever
with this group, scrupulously balanced yet the singing never sounds
studied. On the contrary, it’s full of life. Missa La
sol fa re mi is an earlier composition, published in 1502.
Josquin based the entire Mass on the five notes - A, G, F, D, E -
which are used as an almost omnipresent cantus firmus. It’s
perhaps a more restrained composition than the Pange Lingua
Mass but the music is still full of interest and variety. Like its
companion, it receives a superb performance.
Two shorter pieces have been added for this compilation. Praeter
rerum serium is a Christmas motet in six parts. Peter Phillips
describes the piece as one of “arresting sonorities and intricate
musical detail.” It’s a very devotional piece, which unfolds
spaciously and solemnly though towards the end the music becomes more
lively and celebratory for a short time. The music has a grave beauty
and is performed with the ensemble’s usual exemplary control.
The four-part Ave Maria is, by contrast, less richly
textured and simpler and more direct in style. It’s a lovely
piece. As befits its subject, the music has a chaste purity.
Disc Two in this collection is a straight reissue of CDGIM 019 (review).
It had been believed, I think, that the more substantial setting,
Super voces musicales is the earlier of the two Masses
which Josquin based on the popular chanson, L’homme armé.
However, in his essay accompanying this set Peter Phillips says that
it now appears that the two Masses were coeval. As with the Pange
lingua Mass on the other disc, we hear the chanson first and that’s
a great help though, in fact, the melody is easy to identify in the
Super voces musicales Mass despite the virtuosity with which
Josquin weaves his polyphonic invention around it. It’s an extremely
demanding piece on account of its length and vocal tessitura but The
Tallis Scholars, working under studio conditions - which can be even
more taxing than live performance - deliver the music marvellously.
The chanson melody is almost always there in the background, except
in three short sections of the Mass and Josquin uses the tune as the
opportunity for some glorious invention. The listener is consistently
delighted by the sheer richness of his music and by the wonderful
intricacy of the part writing.
In the Sexti toni Mass the L’homme armé
melody is harder to pick up - Josquin varies the way in which he interweaves
it into the music with considerable subtlety. This setting is also
deeply impressive and nowhere more so than in the Agnus Dei. Here
the spaciousness of the music imparts a timeless feel and in the third
‘Agnus’ Josquin expands the number of vocal parts from
four to six. In this rapt section the performance by The Tallis Scholars
rises to new heights of excellence with just the right amount of expressive
In my first review of the L’homme armé disc I
commented that the performances of those two Masses exhibit the usual
fastidious musicianship that is always the hallmark of a Tallis Scholars
recording. I went on to say that the balance and tuning are impeccable
and it is hard to imagine that this music could be better performed.
Frankly, those comments are just as true of the performances that
are contained on the first disc in this present set.
The recordings were made in two venues, Merton College Chapel and
the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Salle, Norfolk. In both
cases the audio results are exemplary and contribute actively to the
success of the performances. As ever with Gimell, the documentation
is very good.
For anyone coming to Josquin’s music for the first time this
generous compilation is an ideal way to discover his music. However,
a word of warning is appropriate: the music is addictive and once
you have sampled it in these exquisite performances you may well want
to join The Tallis Scholars on their exploration of all Josquin’s
The Tallis Scholars Josquin Mass series on MusicWeb International
Missa Malheur me bat and Missa Fortuna desperata CD review / download review
Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella review review
Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales and Missa
L’homme armé sexti toni review
Missa Pange Lingua and Missa La sol fa re mi review
Missa Sine Nomine and Missa Ad fugam review
Missa Malheur me bat and Missa Fortuna desperate review