OBRECHT. Masses — Beauty Farm
frabernardo.com | medieval.org
To be released in May 2019
Jacob Obrecht (1457/58 – 1505)
Fortuna desperata a 3 [Antoine Busnois]
Missa Fortuna desperata a 4
Maria zart [traditional church song]
Missa Maria zart a 4
Bart Uvyn [countertenor]
Jon Etxabe Arzuaga | Florian Schmitt [tenor]
Joachim Höchbauer [bass]
24 May 2019
Todd M. McComb
With their Obrecht Masses, Beauty Farm turn to two cycles that had already received worthwhile interpretations on disc — as opposed to much of their work, which has been devoted to relatively unknown music (or to new stylistic presentations of music that had been performed by prior generations).
In this, they turn in an absolute tour-de-force performance of this music leading into 1500, likely the most forceful & richly detailed on record to this point. (One might add, crucially, that the sense of detailed variety doesn't interfere with the coherent sweep of the mass settings, which is a possible issue.)
In this, the choice of Obrecht is also striking, in that his settings are especially transparent & sonically rich to the ear: This is exuberant & ecstatic music, then, in a sense that might be compared to Ockeghem, but within a more thoroughly structured form.
Obrecht's music also tends to be relatively similar to itself, at least within broad bands, and so the individual relevance of the particular cycles is worth noting as well: The Missa Fortuna desperata is especially illustrative & even canonical in this regard, and so Beauty Farm's interpretation follows an enjoyable — but not particularly assertive or dangerous — reading by the Sound and the Fury, as paired with the technically similar Missa Rose playsante (another fine cycle to be sure).
One might moreover compare Obrecht's setting to that by Josquin, who would appear to have been inspired by it, and particularly in the Tallis Scholars performance, which is both relatively more muffled interpretively & more subtle textually. (Although that interpretation seems relatively recent within this context, I should remind myself that it's actually from 2009, i.e. ten years ago. The Sound and the Fury performance was similarly over ten years earlier than Beauty Farm.... Time marches on.)
The Tallis Scholars are also the reference for the previous Missa Maria zart, which as opposed to a mere decade of elapsed time, was my Record of the Year way back in 1996! (It always seemed like a strange issue within their catalog to me, but was also the first Obrecht album of the CD era, as well as a virtuoso piece known for its elaboration of extended sequences....)
The structural consistency that Beauty Farm achieve alongside the pure vocal virtuosity of the extended sequences is, once again, at another level of mastery — & indeed their double CD was promptly added to my personal list. (Listening to this double album also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this music can be extremely powerful & well-articulated with only four singers!) The entire production combines excitement with gravity into an inexorable momentum that seems to define Obrecht's music....
That said, if Beauty Farm is going to start re-recording mass cycles, why not tackle Josquin? Neither they nor the Sound and the Fury have done so. Is there too much historical weight, a sense of the "war horse" as the figure goes? I think it's time: Let's hear, say, the two L'homme armé masses....