As well as the mass and the chanson it is based on this disc provides a motet 'Absalom my son' thought to have possibly been composed to commemorate the death of the son of Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, plus an Ave Maria in which I was overjoyed to find the lovely melody that I have known all my life to the words of the Marian hymn 'Ave coelorum domina'. On top of that there is one absolutely brilliant extra, not by Josquin at all - another motet, by Jheronimus Vinders little of whose work survives, and likely a posthumous tribute to Josquin himself. This is a quite outstandingly beautiful thing, strong and rich in tone, perhaps the jewel of the entire recital. Josquin's own music here is of a 'continuous' type like that of Palestrina and without the antiphonal effects that I have come across in other works by Josquin and after him his Flemish compatriot Lassus. The text of the mass is in the usual sections, with the Agnus Dei given the full three times and not two, making a solemn and grand finale. In addition there is a mediaeval Latin poem in rhyming tercets following the credo, which I take to be the 'Sequence', like the Dies Irae familiar from most settings of the mass for the dead. However the translation provided is quite inexcusably bad, containing so many errors that I am including an accurate version in this review (* below). The study of the classics has of course declined, but I should have thought that at Oxford if anywhere there must still be plenty of folk around competent to vet and correct a piece of Latin construe. In other respects the production is admirable, with a short but informative liner-note largely concerned with current theories regarding Josquin's year of birth but also containing material on the music and the performers. The recording is beyond complaint, and the standard of performance is at least within striking distance of the best from those eminent specialists the Oxford Camerata. There are 12 singers, 5 women and 7 men, which I take to show that there is one female alto and one male. * · The joyful day of the great leader, bringing the gift of new light, is celebrated today. · Grace is given to the believing mind, and let whatever is brought forth from the doors ring in the ardent heart. · Along this path from the east let us wonder at the face of the rising patriarch. · The mighty seed of a great race has made him as the sun, most like Abraham. · You see the attendant raven, and on the other side Elias inconspicuous in the little cave. · When the axe is brought back from the belly of the torrent let it be recognised as that of Elias. · The shining virtue of Joseph and the mind of Jacob that knows future generations have gone into making him. · Let him, mindful of his own people, lead us ever into the joys of Christ everlasting.
Josquin's polyphony is very beautiful indeed. The piece that really struck me was the agnus dei in the Mass - its got this yearning quality - a yearning for the peace of the lamb. I am sure there is a musical technique which gives this effect - it reminds me of the trio in Peter Grimes and of part of MacMillan's seven last words. I like the Oxford Camerata's recordings and would also recommend their CD of Medieval carols. If you like this, why not try Taverner's masses recorded by Christopers on Helios - the singing there reaches celestial heights with dizzingly high notes.
This is an outstanding performance on all levels, singers, acoustics, interpretation. The performance and feeling generated is at the level of the Tallis Scholars. This disc was given a Penguin Guide Rosette and 3 stars. One of the Oxford Camerata's finest recordings. Highly recommended.