On hearing this, there’s an excellent chance Antoine de Févin may become your new favorite composer you’ve never heard of. The late-15th-century French composer (also known for his singing) was a master of parody—the practice by which an existing work was reworked, expanded, arranged, or in some way reimagined in a new context—as in Févin’s creation of an entire Mass from the existing material of Josquin’s motet Ave Maria … virgo serena. If you know the original you will recognize the primary aspects of Josquin’s work, but you will also be thoroughly engaged and enthralled by Févin’s inventive recreation. It’s virtually a new piece—as is the other Mass on the recording, Missa Salve sancta parens, which Févin bases on a plainchant.
Févin was not unknown in his time—on the contrary, he and his works were widely regarded—and as we listen through these masses and motets we can’t help but be impressed with the sophistication of the technique, the clever highlighting of melodic material, and the always interesting interplay of voices—the masterful use of imitative effects and extended development of thematic ideas. If you listen without knowing the source, you may imagine any number of composers, from Josquin to Gombert.
Either in live performance or on its numerous recordings, I’ve never heard anything but first-rate performances from the Brabant Ensemble, and this is no exception. And it’s hard to underestimate the value of a group such as this as an advocate for a virtually unknown but very worthy composer. Hopefully it means that many listeners will take the chance to discover Févin, whose reputation is further honored by Hyperion’s excellent production and Stephen Rice’s informative notes.