TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 July 2012
Sometimes thought in the past to have been by Josquin, this Missa pro defunctis is now more generally believed to have been composed by Jean Richafort as a Requiem upon the death of Josquin in 1521. While Richafort (c1480 - after 1547) was clearly a member of the "post-Josquin generation", he was probably not actually a pupil of Josquin, but nevertheless his music shows the very strong influence of the master. These and many other relevant questions are extensively discussed in Stephen Rice's excellent booklet notes.
Now I must delay not a moment longer but come to the main matter in hand, which is to say this: here is an absolutely wonderful recording, superbly performed, and Richafort's 6-voice Requiem is a stunning and beautiful masterpiece, entirely worthy of serving to mourn the death of the peerless Josquin. The music is deeply moving, sad and yet at the same time comforting in its beauty from the very first notes of the Introitus, never flagging for a moment after that. Moreoever, the performance by Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal, singing one voice to a part at all times, is as near to perfection as I believe any ensemble could get. The two countertenors, Terry Wey and Jakob Huppmann, do a miraculous job on the top lines, the lower voices are just as good, and the entire group sing with an ideally balanced sound and texture - and, what is more, with an absolute conviction that reaches to the very heart of the music and the soul of the listener.
The arrangement of the entire programme of this disc, with the Richafort Requiem at its centre, is equally successful. Most of the works are about mourning and loss, in several cases the mourning of fellow composers. The very first item, Josquin's 6-voice "Nymphes, nappés / Circumdederunt me" is one of the few pieces here that don't appear to be dedicated to any known person or occasion, but nevertheless it expresses almost unbearable sadness and loss from the very first phrases; it also serves the very significant role of introducing the descending motif of the cantus firmus "Circumdederunt me" (Laments of death have surrounded me .....) which frequently appears in the works on this disc including the Requiem. The second item, Josquin's "Faulte d'argent" (Lack of money is sorrow without equal) may seem an odd inclusion in the present context but its presence and relevance are convincingly justified by Stephen Rice, and its music is certainly sad enough, as sung here, to warrant its inclusion. It's even possible that the sentiments of the text may strike a chord with some listeners!
After Richafort's magnificent Requiem itself, other items include "Nymphes des bois/Requiem aeternam", Josquin's own deeply-felt lament on the death of his teacher Johannes Ockeghem; Benedictus Appenzeller's lament on Josquin's death "Musae Jovis", enhanced by the ensemble's intensified outbreak of sadness at the words "Severa mors et improba" (harsh and unjust death). Then we have Josquin's setting of the psalm "Miserere mei, Deus", expressing repentance rather than mourning, followed by Gombert's setting of "Musae Jovis" which actually cheers up quite a bit when Gombert also sets the last two more optimistic verses by the poet Gerard Avidius. The disc ends with the 7-voice "O mors inevitabilis", whose unbearably sad text on the death of Josquin (Inescapable death, cruel death, bitter death) is most beautifully expressed in the music of Jheronimus Vinders.
The recording quality, in the fine acoustic of Kloster Pernegg in the Austrian Waldviertel, is ideal, and this fabulous disc is enhanced still further by its cover illustration. In contrast to Cinquecento's recent preference, in their renaissance recordings, for the highly entertaining composite heads by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, their choice here has very appropriately fallen on a much more serious work of art - the devastatingly tragic realism of Mantegna's foreshortened figure of The Dead Christ with two grief-stricken figures to one side. This, and everything else about the CD and its production - including Stephen Rice's deeply considered booklet essay, offering some fascinating and thought-provoking ideas about these works and about renaissance music in general - are simply superb.
Cinquecento already have several excellent CDs to their credit. But, for me at least, this is the finest yet, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if this Hyperion disc wins a prize or two. In the meantime, renaissance fans shouldn't hesitate; this recording from Cinquecento is masterly, moving and magnificent.