Ockeghem & La Rue: Requiems

Requiem - Ockeghem / La Rue
Diabolus in Musica - Antoine Guerber
Bayard Musique 308 475.2

This is not a groundbreaking album, but it's a very enjoyable interpretation of two long-time favorites: I can't say as I've ever fetishized the Requiem genre the way that some may have, but there's no arguing with the quality of this music. Ockeghem's reputation remains unchallenged today, and the Requiem is one of his most austere & enduring works. The transition from an earlier style to more elaborate counterpoint of the period also seems to mark something of the medieval twilight.... La Rue has been the most generally compelling composer of the next generation for me, and his Requiem is a virtuoso tour-de-force of low lows & high highs, not to mention the contrapuntal intricacy that La Rue developed to a level of subtlety like no one else....

The two performances, although by the same ensemble from the same sessions, emerge from somewhat different histories: The Ockeghem Requiem entry from Ensemble Organum was one of the oldest on my list, and no one had really moved the needle for me since then, so to speak. However, Diabolus in Musica simply bring a new level of mastery to this music, based on their now extensive experience not only with earlier medieval music but e.g. with their earlier Ockeghem-themed program. They even retain some "trembling" cadential ornaments, presumably inspired in part by Organum, which are performed to splendid effect. The singing is strong, and this is a highly compelling performance of music that has received many quality performances. There's a "finish" & satisfaction here that remain rare in interpretations of this repertory.

For the La Rue, the most important precedent is the earlier Extreme Singing (released in 2011 — I was surprised to realize that it's been so long!) album that was the first to sing his Requiem at written pitch, rather than transpose it into a narrower range. Diabolus in Music also take up this challenge, and although details of the low parts can be a little murky at times, generally pull it off with a little more sophistication than the sometimes stiff Vox Ensemble (who have nonetheless secured themselves a place in this performance history). It's great to see performing at pitch taken up by a prominent European ensemble, and as I've said before, it transforms the piece into something even more striking. In this case, Diabolus in Music actually take every movement (especially Sanctus) more slowly than did Vox (or indeed the rather punchy Ensemble Clément Janequin performance I had preferred prior to the availability of these more contemporary approaches), and so invoke a more ceremonial character. I do think that the slowness can be overdone, though (and these impressions of grandeur are hard to balance). So I would say that this cycle can still be performed better, but this is a valuable step toward continually improving command of the piece....

Together, the two cycles & interpretations make for a very recommendable album. And they seem a natural pairing.

(Note further that I have duplicated this entry under both Ockeghem & La Rue headings, for obvious reasons. I would prefer not to duplicate albums on these lists, but felt no choice in this case, given the stature of each Requiem.)

To renaissance sacred list

Todd M. McComb