Binchois Consort

Busnois: Missa L'homme armé; Domarto: Missa Spiritus almus

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This album, originally released in 2002, went relatively quickly to Hyperion's budget line Helios. Perhaps sales were hurt because Antoine Busnois isn't really a Renaissance big name like Josquin, whose music certainly shows his influence. In any event, if you missed the album the first time around, it remains a very nice program of sacred music from the later 15th century, and one that, in its way, can be a kind of collection cornerstone. This is because the whole long tradition of masses using the "L'homme armé" tune as a cantus firmus may have begun with the Busnois Missa L'homme armé for four voices that opens the program. Conductor Andrew Kirkman even suggests that Busnois may have written the tune itself, something that's pretty speculative. But the limpid textures of the performance make clear the several ways Busnois uses the tune and suggests something of what later composers found so fascinating about it. The performing forces -- eight adult men, with one more alto added in a Busnois motet later in the program -- are musically hazardous but gorgeous when the singers can pull it off like Kirkman's Binchois Consort does. The blend is tight enough not to sound like eight individuals but flexible enough to let the singers react to small details in the music. The album also works as an introduction to Busnois and his world, with two motets of his, one sweeping motet by Johannes Pullois at the end, and a mass by the slightly earlier Petrus de Domarto, the Missa Spiritus almus. These are all rare pieces, and each is a welcome find. Kirkman lays stress on the early Renaissance qualities in the Domarto mass, but it also has an expressivity that seems to have influenced Busnois, with textures that seem to breathe in with elaboration and exhale down to passages of near-homophony. The sound environment of the All Saints church in the London suburb of Tooting (it, not Pong Pong, is home to Ting Tong Macadangdang) is splendidly clear, and this is an album that belongs in any good Renaissance collection.

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