The Hilliard Ensemble

Josquin Desprez: Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae; Motets

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For those listeners who missed it the first time around, the reissue of these two discs by the Hilliard Ensemble's devoted to the music of the great Renaissance composer Josquin Desprez will be gratefully received. Some may carp that the packaging is minimal with no texts, much less translations, included and only a spare five paragraphs outlining the composer's career in two languages. But they will still have to concede that with the first disc mixing sacred motets with secular chansons and the second disc joining the Missa Dux Ferrariae with four other sacred works, the programs here are so well chosen that the repertoire alone makes these discs interesting. And, beyond that, the performances by the 14-voice, all-male Hilliard Ensemble are so well sung that the music will be fascinating even to the uninitiated. Though the voices are wholly without vibrato, the intonation hard and tight, and the tone hollow and curiously disembodied, the Hilliard's forceful ensemble, strong balances, and intense blend along with director Paul Hillier's persuasive leadership make the singing almost unbearably effective. Recorded in 1983 and 1989, the early digital sound here is surprisingly warm, deep, and evocative.

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