I had despaired of ever being able to complete my collection of the Clerks' Groups' Ockeghem discs, several of them having been unavailable for some time (well, except for second hand copies from chancers expecting a three figure sum). But now out of the blue come two re-releases, this and Ockeghem: Missa Cuiusvis toni; Missa Quinti toni. All hail ASV Gaudeamus! May their paths be strewn with rose petals, and may angels carry them to their rest. Hopefully the remaining out of production discs will appear soon too.
In Renaissance composer terms Ockeghem defies description owing to the stylistic variety within his works. In the modern parlance applied to "popular" musicians of our own time he would probably be described as continually "reinventing himself".
First up here is the Missa "Ma Maistresse", based upon Ockeghem's chanson of the same name also included here, for which sadly only the Kyrie and Gloria survive. Probably a late work, it uses quotations, reworkings and parodies of the source, making it among the first of the "imitation" or "parody" masses. This is, as the booklet notes, very much a "lighter, sunnier aspect" to Ockeghem, with its higher vocal ranges.
In contradistinction comes the Missa "Caput", taking its name from a long melisma on the final word "caput" in a piece of English Sarum chant "Venit ad Petrum" (also included on this disc), which was used as the basis of an anonymous English Missa "Caput" (excellently performed by the Gothic Voices on Spirits of England & France Vol.4 (Missa Caput/Story of The Salve Regina)), a seminal work which alongside other English pieces exerted an influence on the school of Franco-Flemish composers which cannot be underestimated.
In Ockeghem's reimagining of Missa "Caput", unlike the usual format for masses of the time, the cantus firmus tenor part is an octave lower and out of the range of modern tenor voices, and taken by the basses. This depth at the very heart of the work has been exploited by the experimental Belgian outfit Graindelavoix - whose Missa Caput I fully urge you to try for an utterly different experience - to create a recording sounding like the very Earth itself is resounding from the deep.
The disc is completed by three anonymous motets from the Trent 88 manuscript in which the earliest source of Ockeghem's Missa "Caput" is found: "A solis ortus cardine"; "O sidus Hispaniae" in honour of St Anthony of Padua - Dufay's own version of the same, which appears on the Binchois Consort's Dufay: Music for St Anthony of Padua, appears alongside it in the manuscript; and "Gaude Maria", which may be a contrafactum of an English Kyrie removed from its original mass because the presence of trope texts went against continental practice.
Words will never do justice to the performances of the Clerks' Group. If you have heard them before, then you know full well what you will experience with this disc. If you haven't, you are missing out.
The booklet provides some relatively brief but informative and beautifully written notes by the Clerks' Groups' director Edward Wickham, plus full Latin sung texts with translations.