Three Renaissance Masters

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Program: #15-41   Air Date: Oct 05, 2015

The latest in the Palestrina edition with The Sixteen, Lassus from the Cinquecento Ensemble, and a new recording of Ockeghem’s Missa L’homme armé.


I. Johannes Ockeghem: Missa L’homme armé (Ensemble Nusmido). Rondeau Productions CD ROP6106.


 From MusicWeb-International: It was Edward Wickham’s superlative 1993 recording of Missa Ecce Ancilla with the Clerks’ Group (Proudsound PROU CD 133) that first introduced me to the music of Johannes Ockeghem. They went on to record eleven masses, the Requiem, and half a dozen motets, issued on the Gaudeamus label and boxed up into a 5 CD set which, unfortunately, I’ve not been able to get my hands on.

This recording of the composer’s Missa L'homme armé was made in 2014 by the young Ensemble Nusmido – four singers/instrumentalists who specialize in the performance of medieval and Renaissance music from Gregorian Chant to the vocal polyphony of the early 16th century. They are joined for this venture by Miyoko Ito on the fiddle. In the excellent liner notes, to which each of the four makes a contribution, they discuss the strategy behind their performance practice. They position themselves around a large manuscript which is seated on a lectern, and sing from the original medieval notation. Their preference for the original source material is based on their view that ‘it transmits a wealth of information about phrasing that modern notation rarely offers’. The avoidance of bar-lines enables the music to flow more freely. The technique the group employ ‘relies less on a dynamic and affect-orientated characterization and more on a fusion of the voices through the blending of overtones’.

Johannes Ockeghem was the most famous composer of the Franco-Flemish School in the last half of the fifteenth century, and many consider him the most influential figure between Dufay and Josquin des Prez. His talents were not only directed at composing but stretched to singing, teaching and fulfilling the role of choirmaster. He held a position as ‘maestro di cappella’ at the French court. He was born in the town of Saint-Ghislain, situated in the French-speaking Belgium province of Hainaut some time between 1410 and 1425, and died on 6 February 1497. Not particularly prolific, some of his work is now lost and some former attributions have been reallocated to other composers.

Missa L'homme armé is based upon an eponymous popular fifteenth century song. Other composers who took the song as a basis for their masses include Palestrina, Obrecht, Dufay, Morales and Busnois, whose instrumental piece ‘In hydraulis’ is featured on this release. A setting of the song concludes the CD. Imaginatively, the Ensemble Nusmido have interspersed the movements of the Mass Ordinary with instrumental works that are in some way connected with Ockeghem. Agricola was a younger colleague at the French court. Busnois pays tribute to the composer in ‘In hydraulis’, and ‘Ut heremita solus’ is Ockeghem’s response.
The Johanneskirche Halle provides a warm, spacious and sympathetic venue for this unaccompanied vocal music, conferring a sense of shared intimacy and facilitating clarity of polyphonic textures and avoidance of congestion,. There is nothing run-of-the mill here, the Ensemble Nusmido invest these scores with a wealth of imagination and effortless radiance. What I find compelling from these young musicians is their instinctive phrasing, subtle dynamics and immaculate intonation. The instrumental items provide contrast and help sustain interest. This is a most enjoyably release, that would grace any vocal collection.

Stephen Greenbank 

Johannes OCKEGHEM (c.1410/25-1497)
Missa L'homme armé [33:49]
Alexander AGRICOLA (c.1446-1506)
Cecus non iudicat de coloribus (instrumental) [8:50]
Antoine BUSNOIS (c.1430-1492)
In hydraulis (instrumental) [11:14]
Ut heremita solus (instrumental) [12:10]
Robert MORTON (c.1430-c.1479) or Guillaume DUFAY (c.1397-1474)
Il sera par vous/L'homme armé [2:19]

II. Lassus: Missa super Dixit Joseph (Cinquecento). Hyperion CD CDA 68064.

 CDA68064 - Lassus: Missa super Dixit Joseph & motets
From the Ensemble: Our ninth recording for Hyperion Records has been released this month. This time we rove ever so slightly from the Austrian Habsburg court into the territory of Bavaria and the music of the great master Orlande de Lassus. Not without his connections to the royal Austrian household, Lassus spent the majority of his career serving as singer, composer and Kapellmeister to dukes Albrecht V and Wilhelm V in Munich. Our program concentrates on the luxurious "Missa super Dixit Joseph", a parody mass on the composer's own motet for six voices. We include the motet "Dixit Joseph" and follow the mass with other settings of old testament texts, closing with the charismatic, chromatic and dramatic "Timor et tremor"! Already described by Gramophone as "(a) very fine recording" and "…finely detailed…vocally sure-footed, with a…secure sense of architecture." the disc is available in multiple formats from the Hyperion Records website, as well as most online outlets and record stores. 
  • Confitemini Domino
  • Missa 'Dixit Joseph'
  • Dixit Joseph undecim fratribus suis
  • O mors, quam amara est
  • In me transierunt irae tuae
  • Deus, qui sedes super thronum
  • Si bona suscepimus
  • Deus canticum novum
  • Veni dilecte mi
  • Fallax gratia
  • Timor et tremor 

    III. Palestrina: Volume 6 (The Sixteen/Harry Christophers) Coro CD COR16133.

     Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Vol. 6
    From (James Manheim): The Sixteen, long almost the official choral ensemble of Britain's middlebrow Classic FM radio network, could easily have been forgiven for simply resting on its considerable tonal sheen and recording of more or less the same album of British favorites over and over. Instead, the group has embarked on a series of Palestrina recordings that are both freshly conceived and downright gorgeous. The novel component in the programs is the presence of Palestrina's masses, up to now a generally neglected part of his output. They turn out to be entirely different in concept and sound from his spacious, rich motets, and this volume has an especially intriguing example: one of two examples of a Missa L'homme armé that Palestrina wrote. The tradition of organizing a mass around this little tune in the tenor voice was well over a century old by the time Palestrina came to it, and some might think it would have been played out by then. Not so! Palestrina's mass is both fearsomely learned and rather playful. The manipulation of the L'homme armé melody is accomplished by means of mensuration canons, whereby the tune is accompanied by itself in other voices at different speeds, notated only with a little time signature. This is difficult to hear and perform, and later editions of the mass simplified the notation. But Palestrina hints at what is happening with all kinds of easily heard references to L'homme armé in the freely composed voices. The work is something of a tribute to the long tradition of such masses that had come before, and it's balanced by the unusually fine and largely unfamiliar group of motets on the program. Sample the short Super flumina Babylonis (track 5) with its exquisite depiction of the loneliness of exile in gentle tonal instability. The Sixteen (here bulked up to 18 for the Mass) clarify both text and polyphony flawlessly. And they are backed well by Christophers' engineers at London's Church of St. Alban the Martyr. This is not only a good place to start with The Sixteen's series, but also a Palestrina recording that's going to be heard for a very long time.
    • Missa L’homme Armé
    • Song Of Songs: Nos. 16, 17 & 18
    • Surge amica mea
    • Dilectus meus mihi
    • Surgam et circuibo civitatem
    • De profundis clamavi
    • Parce mihi, Domine
    • Peccantem me quotidie
    • Si ambulavero in medio tribulationis
    • Tribulationes civitatum audivimus
    • Super flumina Babylonis


Composer Info

Johannes OCKEGHEM (c.1410/25-1497), Alexander AGRICOLA (c.1446-1506), Antoine BUSNOIS (c.1430-1492), Robert MORTON (c.1430-c.1479), Guillaume DUFAY (c.1397-1474), Orlande de Lassus, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

CD Info

CD ROP6106, PROU CD 133, CD CDA 68064, CD COR16133.