Cappella Pratensis / Stratton Bull

Josquin Desprez: Missa Ave maris stella

(Super Audio CD (SACD) - Challenge Classics #CC 72632)

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The Missa Ave Maris Stella, with its lyrically reverential mood and long duo and trio passages, is among Josquin Desprez's most popular masses, and the listener can choose from among recordings by top Renaissance a cappella vocal groups. This one by the Netherlands ensemble Cappella Pratensis presents itself as hyperauthentic. Backed by a booklet essay from Josquin specialist Jennifer Bloxam, the group purports to re-create the practices, discourse, and atmosphere that would have attended a performance of the mass in the papal chapel around the year 1500. The movements of the work are interspersed with thematically appropriate chants and motets. The all-male, all-adult singers use facsimiles of choirbooks with the square notation of the time, and they perform gathered around a single music stand. Here the claimed authenticity begins to break down in favor of the present fashion for very small ensembles; the eight performers are a rather small group for music that was probably sung by between one and two dozen singers in the papal choir to which the Cappella Pratensis and leader Stratton Bull are attaching the collection of pieces, and papal choristers would have used individual choirbooks. For an "authentic" performance, this is controversial at best, but leaving these issues aside this is a fairly strong small-group performance, with excellent blend among the voices, not a surfeit of beauty that the likes of the Tallis Scholars would provide, but an engaging sense of engagement with the texts and of coordination in the long duos, taken by single voices. Belgium's Church of Vieusart proves a reasonable environment for the project, and in general the album can be recommended for those with a strong interest in the performance practices of Josquin's time.

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