Ockeghem: Missa Au travail suis

Ockeghem: Missa Au travail suis / Missa Sine Nomine a5
The Clerks' Group - Edward Wickham
AS&V Gaudeamus 215

The disc ends the Clerks' Ockeghem series, and does so with a rather different interpretation. Finally, they have a real emphasis on points of articulation and vocal color, the absence of which I had bemoaned in the past. This emphasis sometimes comes at the expense of some structural clarity, but is nonetheless notable, and marks a step in their interpretations.

Due to the change in emphasis, this is also the first Clerks' Group recording in which the included songs have any bounce or color. In this case, they are easily enjoyable and worthwhile.

Finally, their re-recording of Intemerata Dei mater is so much better than their first... it summarizes the progress of the group nicely. In my mind, the progress of this group equates to progress in the public consciousness of this music. There is much to be said for this view. When their series appeared, those of us who already felt an intimacy with Ockeghem's music simply yawned, and then bristled when instant acclaim came for such mediocre renditions. That Wickham & Co. did not rest on this acclaim, but have continued to probe the music for themselves says a great deal about their character. The improved command and sense of detail has been reflected directly in public reception of this and other intepretations of similar music.

It is satisfying to me that they have come to similar conclusions regarding how this music is constructed and how it should be interpreted. To some extent, I have always viewed such conclusions as inevitable for anyone with a keen interest. In some ways, it is also a source of irritation and insulting to earlier scholars that these conclusions are regarded as new. They certainly are not. What is true is that the Clerks came around at the right time to play out these ideas in the public eye. There is something to be said for timing, and in that sense, the initial acclaim seems retrospectively justified, seeing as how they have now undoubtedly advanced the cause of appreciation for this music.

That said, this interpretation could be improved. It would require increased structural clarity, as well as a more consistent handling of contrapuntal momentum in order to be compared with Moll's most recent Ockeghem. The present disc is quite acceptable, and notable for the Clerks' Group and similar groups in the public consciousness, but not an exceptional interpretation in the broader context of this list of recordings.

After all this meta-discussion of the context of this interpretation, it remains to be said that, although this may not be Ockeghem's very best music, it is among his better pieces. The Missa Au travail suis, in particular, has a definite appeal in its declamatory structure and unusual pairings. It can be striking, although a little awkward at times too. It is difficult to know where Ockeghem may have been going with some of the ideas there.

The 5-voice Missa Sine Nomine is even more compact & animated, showing an economy which would only become a standard in later generations. It ends up being rather animated & enjoyable. The conjecturally attributed motet-chanson Permanente vierge is also a piece of some quality.

To renaissance sacred list

Todd M. McComb