Ever since the advent of recordings, little-known composers have had the opportunity to begin a new life following the release of a first major disc devoted to them. Any attempt to revive the reputation of Jean Mouton is of importance because, of all the brilliant representatives of Josquin's generation, it has been the discretion of Mouton, who many musicologists consider to have been the best contrapuntist of his time, which has lacked and needed a champion.
This Tallis Scholars recital confirms that the level of Mouton's inspiration, the fluency of his melodies and his mastery of the science of counterpoint, put him easily above his immediate colleagues in the French Chapel Royal of the early 1500s, which included Févin, Prioris and Divitis (already represented on disc). And arguably they also put him above some of his most famous contemporaries, like Obrecht, LaRue, Agricola and Isaac: in fact by the side of Josquin, 'Prince of Musicians'.
Certainly his genius has shone ever more brightly with each successive recording of his famous Nesciens mater for eight voices (recordings which include that monumental exercise in slow ecstasy from Gardiner on Pilgrimage To Santiago, 2004); and of several other motets of the hundred or so he is known to have written, like the grand Ave Maria for five voices (on 'O gente brunette' from L'Odhecaton, Ramée, 2009). In addition the Ensemble Jacques Moderne have dedicated a recital to him (Ligia, 2003, using voices and viols); and now very recently there is another from the Brabant Ensemble. But despite all this competition the new anthology from the Tallis Scholars, who are as inspired here as they are on their best form, brings us to a new understanding of him.
Their programme allows us finally to hear one of Mouton's fifteen masses, whose rounded and serene sonorities have enabled Peter Phillips to make a meaningful comparison between his work and the paintings of Giovanni Bellini. The motets which make up the remainder of the disc are all masterpieces. The Apollonian art of the Tallis Scholars seems to have found in Mouton's balanced and masterly counterpoint a language which exactly suits them. As in the past with Palestrina—and perhaps even more with Josquin—their singing thrills; and makes thrilling the rediscovery of a master of masters.