JOSQUIN: Masses: “Malheur me bat”, “Fortuna desperata” – Tallis Scholars/ Peter Philips, conductor – Gimell 042, 75:27 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Josquin’s 16 authenticated mass settings stand as a landmark among music of any age. Formidably complex yet piously crafted and emotionally resonant, these works have really yet to be equaled by any composer since then. Peter Philips and the always-reliable Tallis Scholars now present us with two of the most intriguing and intricate works of Josquin’s series, the parody masses “Malheur me bat” and “Fortuna desperata”. Both of these works take their origins from secular polyphonic chansons as their model, but this time with a bit of a twist.
Usually a composer when borrowing from such a source would make use of only one part of the song, perhaps a tenor line, and create all of the motives from the mass using this one source. In these works, he used all three parts of the original song as material in the mass, creating all sorts of possibilities making for infinite density and intricacy in how he modeled these pieces. In doing this he essentially fashioned the art of the polyphonic parody mass, and one can indeed hear the complexity of the pieces if not quite the structural elements, except in small cases and only when one knows the melodies and is able to zero in on them. As a result of this astonishing compositional ability, the progress of these masses provides us with lush textures and a bewildering variety of technical accomplishments, all kept in proper proportion by the composer’s uncanny facility in making each contrapuntal line clear and pristine as new-cut glass.
The Scholars are on first-rate form here (when are they not?), and Gimell’s production values are as first-class as they have been for 30 years. If you are youngish or new to this music, I can’t think of a better place to dive in—everyone needs a certain amount of Josquin in their musical diet.
— Steven Ritter