JOSQUIN DESPREZ: Missa D’ung aultre amer; Motets and Chansons – Alamire/ Andrew Lawrence-King, Renaissance Harp/ David Skinner – Obsidian CD701 68:27 ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:
Josquin Desprez (ca. 1450-1521) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance who is generally considered the greatest composer of the period between Guillaume Dufay and Palestrina. During Josquin’s lifetime the high Renaissance compositional style of complex polyphony emerged, supplanting the relatively simpler music of the preceding medieval era. Josquin was the master of what eventually became known as the Franco-Flemish School. More than 350 works have been attributed to him – some of whose authenticity have been questioned – but despite his fame almost nothing is known of his personal life.
This recording features what may be Josquin’s earliest and shortest Mass. It is based on a three-voice Rondeau quatrain composed by Johannes Ockeghem: D’ung aultre amer (beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson), from which its title is derived. The brevity of the Mass does not detract from its beauty or its emotional power. It is sung with consummate skill by Alamire who emphasize its shimmering, melismatic vocal line while adding an appropriate emotional heft. The effect is one of plaintiveness and awe that is haunting in its simplicity.
The rest of the disc contains a generous sampling of Josquin’s Motets and Chansons, frequently accompanied by Andrew Lawrence-King playing the Renaissance Harp. This ancient instrument features slightly buzzing strings that produce a sound which can reasonably be described as a cross between a sitar and a banjo. Its rustic directness blends with surprising ease with the purity of tone produced by the voices. The harp lends some much needed variety to these works which, despite their beauty, are relatively homogenous in sonic quality because of their relatively limited vocal tessitura.
Lovers of Renaissance music will enjoy this disc which often revels in the haunting beauty of Josquin’s writing for massed voices. Those still unfamiliar with the vocal works of this era may experience some slight monotony which the harp may not completely dispel. For those in the latter category, this music’s many beauties will eventually conquer if judiciously taken in measured doses. The recorded sound on this CD is exemplary with a reverberant glow that heightens the music’s aura of mystery.
– – Mike Birman