The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips

Josquin Desprez: Missa Malheur me bat; Missa Fortuna desperata

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Standing somewhat aside from the flood of recordings treating Renaissance music in context are the performances of the Tallis Scholars, a cappella renditions of the monuments of Renaissance sacred polyphony. The masses of Josquin are the great intellectual accomplishments of the period. Director Peter Phillips, in his booklet notes, compares Josquin to Beethoven, pointing to the way each of Josquin's masses, like Beethoven's symphonies, seems to define and inhabit its own particular world. A closer comparison in many ways would be Bach: the polyphonic works of both composers have attractive surfaces that conceal a wealth of inner relationships deep enough to keep you searching, if you so choose, for years to find them all. There are limpid crowd-pleasers among Josquin's masses and especially among his motets and secular works, but these two parody masses -- masses built on multipart models -- aren't really among them; they involve intricate derivation of the individual parts from the material of the model. Fascinating once you get into them, they require clear, pure, yet distinctly articulated performances, and that's exactly what they receive here. Josquin's masses would originally have been performed by men and boys, but the Tallis Scholars make a strong case for their mixed-gender adult presentation; the dense polyphony is clarified with small textual and musical accents. The group's trademark sound engineering is superb, and the Chapel of Merton College is a well-nigh perfect environment for the music sonically. In short, this is a fine recording for those getting deeper into the profundities of Josquin's music.

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