Peter Philips and The Tallis Scholars here reach the eighth volume in their recorded survey of Josquin masses.
You may be surprised, as I was, by the inclusion of a mass by another composer. However, as Peter Phillips explains in his excellent notes, Missa Da pacem was widely attributed to Josquin and, I understand, was included in the Smijers complete Josquin edition of 1953. Then, in 1972 the scholar Edgar Sparks demonstrated that the composer was, in fact, the Franco-Flemish composer, Noel Bauldeweyn. I confess I had never heard of him. If the information on Wikipedia is accurate, he was born around 1480 and died sometime after 1513. Though his life and career appear to have been largely undocumented, he is known to have held the post of singing master at the church of St Rombouts, Mechelen between 1509 and 1513. The Missa Da pacem was, apparently, one of seven masses that he composed.
However, notwithstanding that Edgar Sparks attributed the mass setting to Bauldeweyn, Peter Phillips thinks there may be a bit more to it than that. He says that ‘[o]ne of the pleasures of recording this setting was in tracking Josquin, or his influence, through its pages’. Phillips’ detailed work has led him to believe that ‘there are two substantial sections which could maintain an attribution to Josquin.’ These sections are the ‘Et incarnatus’ and Agnus Dei III. However, he readily admits that the overall standard of the music in this setting is below Josquin’s usual exalted level. Peter Phillips floats the thought that the Mass might have been composed by more than one hand, though he doesn’t go so far as to propound this as a firm solution.
The mass is in four parts, STTB, although the scoring expands to SSTTBB for Agnus Dei III. As usual, Peter Phillips has two voices per part, leading to consistently exceptional clarity of texture. Before the Mass is sung, we hear the plainchant on which it is based, sung by a solo tenor, Christopher Watson. I always find this approach really helpful as it settles the core thematic material in the listener’s mind.
The Kyrie is well-constructed if not outstandingly memorable. In the Gloria, I like the spirited flowing music at the start. Later, ‘Qui tollis’ is more thoughtful in tone, then the music accelerates at ‘Quoniam tu solus’ and the remainder of the movement is celebratory. The Credo has good, strong music at the start but then, as predicted by Peter Phillips, the musical quality seems to step up a gear at ‘Et incarnatus est’; here the music is spacious and inward. Both the ‘Crucifixus’ and the ‘Et resurrexit’ are scored for two voices only. The concluding section, ‘Et iterum venturus est’ involves all four parts but quite a few passages involve interplay between two parts.
The Sanctus is dignified and when the ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ is reached there’s more two-part writing which eventually becomes exultant, paving the way nicely for a busy and joyful ’Hosanna’. Agnus Dei I is in four parts, which intertwine in prayerful music. Agnus Dei II is more intense but the best is reserved for Agnus Dei III. Here, the music expands into six-part writing and the music is richer and more complex, underpinned by a sonorous, slow-moving second bass part. As Peter Phillips suggested, this is on a different level of accomplishment and eloquence. Overall, Missa Da pacem may not reach the exalted level of several of the mass settings that we can ascribe with certainty to Josquin. However, it’s well worth hearing in its own right and its inclusion in this series of recordings is welcome and justified.
There is no doubt as to the attribution of Missa Mater Patris; this is definitely a work by Josquin. It’s in four parts, ATTB and two additional altos are brought in for Agnus Dei III. Peter Phillips describes it as ‘one of [Josquin’s] most forthright compositions, full of daring in a bracingly simple style.’ He asserts that the simplicity of style suggests to him not an early composition but, rather, a late work in which Josquin demonstrates his confidence in his own mastery precisely through simplicity of utterance.
Most unusually, indeed uniquely in his masses, Josquin based Missa Mater Patris on the music of another composer, Antoine Brumel. The mass is based on Brumel’s short ATT piece Mater Patris et filia which we hear sung before the mass itself. The extensive use of thematic material from this little piece prompts Peter Phillips to wonder if Josquin composed the mass as a tribute to Brumel shortly after that composer’s death in 1512 or 1513.
Because alto voices are on the top line the music has a darker, richer hue than we experience in the other mass on this disc; that’s a super contrast. Peter Phillips identifies two crucial compositional traits in this work. One is the use of imitative duets, usually in the inner parts, and the other is the tendency to write in solemn block chords. These traits are in evidence immediately during the Kyrie. Through the kindness of my colleague, Brian Wilson, I had access to scores of both masses for my review listening. This makes it very easy to spot the imitative passages though, in all honesty, they are readily apparent to anyone listening without a score, especially as the polyphony is not exuberant and the singers make the textures so clear.
I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful but I’ve scribbled in my notes for the Credo ‘nothing flashy’. Josquin’s writing is direct and skilful. The opening section of the Credo is forthright. Later on, I admired the strength in the writing—and in the performance—at ‘Et resurrexit’ while the concluding section, from ‘Et in Spiritu Sanctum’ is robust and affirmative. Josquin’s setting of the Sanctus includes a truly joyful ‘Hosanna’ which here benefits from very vital singing. The Benedictus is laid out for just the two upper voices and here the writing is very lean and simple. The solemn Agnus Dei I is in four parts whereas Agnus Dei II is pared back to the two upper voices. Josquin adds another alto part for Agnus Dei III. This extended, slow-moving section rounds off the mass most impressively. Missa Mater Patris is another fine example of Josquin’s craft.
It seems almost superfluous to say so by now but the singing of The Tallis Scholars is on the usual exalted level throughout this disc. Blend, tuning and ensemble are absolutely impeccable. The music for both masses has been edited by Timothy Symons. Of course, Josquin left no expression marks or dynamics in his scores; all that and much more is left to the interpretative skills of Peter Phillips and the execution of his expert singers. Suffice to say that they bring this music vividly to life: these performances are characterised by musical flair and imagination as much as by scholarship.
The engineering was in the safe hands of Philip Hobbs. He’s well used to recording this ensemble in the lovely acoustic of Merton College Chapel and the results of his work delight the ear: the recording is truthful and expertly balanced. As ever with Gimell, the documentation is first class.
This, I believe is the penultimate release in this Josquin series. I look forward very much to the completion of this important series in due course. This latest disc, though, is a mandatory and self-recommending purchase for everyone who has been following the series.