Edward Higginbottom / New College Choir, Oxford

Nicholas Ludford: Missa Benedicta; Antiennes Votives

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Nicholas Ludford was a British contemporary of John Taverner, active during the first half of the sixteenth century. His music has only recently been unearthed, and based on this recording one can say it was not only worth the trouble but might even cause some rewriting in the history books. The main attraction is the six-voice Missa Benedicta et Venerabilis, which (like other English Renaissance masses) lacks a Kyrie and is sung with appropriate office chants between the polyphonic choral movements. What is most startling is the sheer expressivity of a good deal of the music. The Incarnatus, Crucifixus, and the almost abrupt, exuberant Et Resurrexit and conclusion of the Credo (track 6) are good places to start. Ludford reduces the texture to three or four voices and seems to focus on specific passages of text in a way that brings to mind no one as much as Josquin; this in a compositional world thought to be dominated by monumental, abstract polyphony. The music employs rhythmic shifts and some striking vertical sonorities, all again seemingly linked with the text, and the text-setting has some really outlandish details: Ludford likes, for instance, to kick off a cadential drive with the last syllable of the penultimate phrase of text rather than with the final phrase or "Amen." Oddly enough, the two votive anthems surrounding the mass are more conventional in style. The venerable New College Choir Oxford (men and boys), which was around when this music was composed, delivers a strong reading, with the boy trebles getting into the meaty spirit of the work and more than making up for occasional slips to the flat side of the tone in what is certainly quite difficult music to sing, and the recording ambiance of a church in the northeastern French town of Sarrebourg is ideal. An important find for devotees of English religious music or the Renaissance mass.

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