JOSQUIN. Missa Gaudeamus & Missa L'ami Baudichon / The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
November 2, 2018
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30 December 2018
Todd M. McComb
A couple of recent Josquin albums give me an opportunity — or perhaps a command — to write a little more about public impressions of this music — which, as regular readers will know, I approach as late medieval. The latter is significant with a composer like Josquin in particular, i.e. one whose works are often hailed as anticipating Renaissance modernity (or in my terms, imperial-colonial modernity). In particular, even as performance practice evolves for earlier music, and indeed for the music of the Josquin era (as in e.g. the immediately prior La Rue discussion), there's still an urge to perform Josquin in a later 16th century style, or even to prioritize vocal aesthetics that originated with Restoration England. That the latter style is ahistorical when applied to Franco-Flemish polyphony of c.1500 is not only incredibly obvious, but has been discussed — including publicly — in great detail in the past couple of decades.
Musicians know it, of course: The most recent Josquin program by The Tallis Scholars is a good example of improving command in this repertory, including of tuning, ficta, rhythm, etc. (All have been mangled, and were as a norm not so long ago, including by the Scholars themselves.) Their Missa Gaudeamus in particular is probably their most accomplished yet, for instance. (And, once again, there is no documentation provided regarding when the recording was made. For all I know, the entire cycle of cycles was recorded several years ago & is being slowly released over time.) Indeed, it's probably the single most compelling version of one of Josquin's most sophisticated — & best served on record, as opposed to some of the early entries in the Tallis Scholars' renewed series — masses, but also doesn't set new standards.
Like their previous Josquin album, that featuring the Missa Di dadi, it's also paired with a lesser work, in this case the Missa L'ami baudichon. (However, whereas the pairing on the prior album was basically a throwaway, the latter has its merits. It's somewhat crude, but projects an appealing solidity... as first revealed by Peter Urquhart, to whom the next entry will partly turn. Once this series concludes, and this is the 7th of 9 albums, if prior comments are to be believed, the way that most have paired greater & lesser cycles will probably end up limiting its appeal somewhat. I suppose that's simply a consequence of whatever version of "complete" is being used here....)
The Missa Gaudeamus is not an "odd ball" Josquin cycle, however (as was Di dadi), and so fits comfortably in a general survey of his style: One might invert such an assessment, though, and begin to suggest that unique cycles are far more characteristic of Josquin, and specifically for their lack of general characteristics: They often adopt personal stances, whether due to technical challenges, or some other sort of orientation, that yields a particular musical perspective & sonic (& aesthetic) result, not unlike motets (which achieve such a result in part via differing texts).