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JOSQUIN des Prés (c. 1440-1521)
Plainchant – Gaudeamus omnes [1:13]
Missa Gaudeamus [35:57]
Missa L’ami Baudichon [29:37]
The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
rec. The Chapel of Merton College, Oxford
Latin texts and English, French & German translations included
GIMELL CDGIM050 [66:48]

This album continues The Tallis Scholars’ acclaimed series of Josquin des Prés masses on the Gimell label. Fourteen masses have been released. I was surprised that it has been as long as a couple of years since the last volume. It seems there are two more albums to come before the projected series is complete.

Renaissance composer Josquin des Prés, the most famous European composer between Guillaume, Dufay and Palestrina, is usually considered to be the pivotal figure of the Franco-Flemish School. He is regarded by early music specialists to be the leader of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music. Sadly, reliable information on this great composer is largely absent, lost in the midst of time. No less a figure than Martin Luther described Josquin as “master of the notes”.

Peter Phillips remarks on the contrasting sound worlds of the two masses recorded here. Missa Gaudeamus is “intensely worked” while Missa L’ami Baudichon is “joyful, bright and easy-going”. Written in the early or mid-1480s, the centre of Josquin’s composing career, Missa Gaudeamus is a setting of the Ordinary of the Mass. Published in 1502, this mass for four voices is based on the Gregorian introit Gaudeamus Omnes. My highlight is the short Agnus Dei II (track 17), an exquisite yet complex canonic duet; the singing conveys a near-mystical quality.

An early work, Missa L’ami Baudichon is thought to have been written circa 1475, and is one of one of Josquin’s less frequently encountered masses. Et resurrexit (track 28), the final part of the Credo, is memorable. It is sung with appealing luminosity.

Specialists in Renaissance sacred music, The Tallis Scholars were founded by Peter Phillips in 1973 as an ensemble who use women for the top lines rather than boys or men. That results here in a remarkable balance. With real assurance, Phillips draws from the Scholars singing of unerring sincerity that is based in the very essence of the Latin text. The unwavering unity of the ensemble is its key attribute, and so is stylish delivery of phrasing and nuances. The Scholars achieve a beautifully balanced and attractive tonal palette of sound.

The disc was recorded at The Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. The sound quality is first-class, clear and well balanced. For some reason the booklet does not give the date of the recording. As we have come to expect from this series, the essay written by Peter Phillips is of an elevated standard. I am grateful for the provision of complete sung Latin texts with translations in English.

Michael Cookson
Previous review: John Quinn


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