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Hyperion Records

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Christmas Mass in the ducal chapel (Sainte-Chapelle), Chambéry (Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, fol. 158r) by Jean Colombe (c1430/35-c1493)
Musée Condé, Chantilly, France / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67715
Recording details: February 2008
Chapel of All Souls College, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: January 2009
Total duration: 34 minutes 28 seconds

'Se la face ay pale remains Dufay's most approchable mass … this is easy, effortless musicianship  … the balance is superb, and all lines are presented in a free and supple manner that projects the music very well' (Gramophone)

'Dufay was one of the greatest composers of the 15th century … half a dozen recordings of Dufay's Missa Se la face are available but Kirkman's sweeps the board … performances of great clarity, pliancy and historical value … a confirming display of excellence and insight' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Dufay's Missa Se la face ay pale provides the backbone for this gloriously performed disc from the eight male voices of the pure-toned Binchois Consort. Contrasting motets and mass propers, works of sublime clarity, are rewardingly interspersed … the results are mesmerising' (The Observer)

'The singers more than adequately realise their stated aim of bringing the opulent Court of Savoy to life … the singing on the CD is mellifluous and animated, the pronunciation authentic … and both the liturgical context and the confidence of the performance make this a valuable addition to our understanding of Dufay's output' (Early Music Review)

'This ensemble has now recorded five masses credited to Dufay, an achievement of considerable stature … as well as giving a fine rendition of the music, Kirkman's Dufay disc also adds relevant music to broaden our understanding of the period' (Fanfare, USA)

Missa Se la face ay pale
early 1450s, probably for the Court of Savoy
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

Kyrie  [3'36] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [9'27] LatinEnglish
Credo  [9'14] LatinEnglish

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Missa Se la face ay pale uses the tenor of Dufay’s own chanson as its structural cantus firmus. The distribution of the phrases of this tenor throughout the Mass is absolutely clear and cogent, and provides the groundplan and the overall proportions of the larger form. It is presented integrally ‘once through’ in the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus, and is run through three times—in successively shorter note values—in the Gloria and Credo. This creates not only a broad framework for forward motion in general, but also a sense of real excitement and cumulative momentum towards the end of each of the two longer movements. In the final sections of these two, the melodic behaviour of all parts tends to converge, the rhythmic texture as a whole gains in animation and integration; and the tenor melody emerges, so to speak, in its ‘true’ shape, in equal-voiced dialogue with the other voices. Among other things, this also allows the brilliant fanfare figures taken over from the end of the original song to make their full, culminating impact in the Mass.

The vocal layout of the Mass is sonorous but completely lucid, with two highish tenor parts (one of them carrying the cantus firmus), a distinctively melodic top part lying a fifth above, and a (contra)tenor bassus lying a fifth below—a texture modelled, perhaps, on that of the English four-voice cyclic Masses of the 1440s (Caput and Veterem hominem) which had recently created such a stir among Continental musicians. The compositional problem of reconciling the constructive pattern of duos, trios and full sections with the ongoing melodic and rhythmic needs of the moment, besides keeping an alert controlling ear on the music’s general shape and pacing, is handled by Dufay with seemingly effortless mastery, as though he had been writing this kind of piece all his life. Although the flow and shapeliness result from contrapuntal invention that is intricate and highly sophisticated, it is the ease and clarity of his solutions that help to give the work, musically, its classic status. If, as seems possible, it came into existence to celebrate a grand public event, perhaps a dynastic wedding, then there could be no more thought-provoking demonstration of the mutually interdependent relations of the (transient) requirements of social culture and the (universal) purposes and beauties of art.

from notes by Philip Weller © 2009

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