Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe

Johannes Ockeghem: Complete Songs, Vol. 1

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One of the major figures among 15th century Franco-Flemish composers, Johannes Ockeghem, was maestro di cappella in the royal courts of Charles VII and Louis XI, as well as a cleric at Notre Dame de Paris, and he was widely admired for his fourteen Masses, including the celebrated Requiem. Scholarly attention has been beneficial to Ockeghem's choral music, which thrives on modern recordings, though his songs have often been relegated to second-class status, and recordings of the chansons have been few and far between. Blue Heron's project to record the roughly two dozen extant songs is the first such effort since the 1980s, and this first of two volumes promises that it will be the set to beat for some time to come. Led by Scott Metcalfe, this small vocal ensemble with spare instrumental accompaniment of vielles and harp provides the intimacy and variety to make the program attractive to newcomers, but also to ears attuned to the unusual contours and harmonies of Renaissance vocal music. While Ockeghem's songs resemble the pure sonorities and canonic intricacies of his church music, his treatment of the vernacular lyrics allows for a more florid style that is, at times, reminiscent of medieval music, particularly in the elaborate intertwining of lines and archaic-sounding cadences. Released on the group's own label, this album was made in the rather echoic Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, though the rather close-up recording is well-balanced with the reverberant acoustics.

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