Barcelona & Apt Masses

Messes de Barcelone et d'Apt
Sacred Vocal Music from the 14th century
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard
Evidence Classics 060

I can't say that any of these items are of the highest musical interest individually, but the overall program richly illuminates a contrapuntal era for liturgical (& some para-liturgical) music: The Barcelona Mass is one of the earliest such cycles, but also consists of movements that appear to have been composed separately — and aren't necessarily of the highest technical interest otherwise. Likewise, the Apt selections here — in which the mass is one of many that might have been selected from the possible movements — are made more around their inflection of chant & melodic forms than on their technical polyphonic intricacy — although the manuscript does includes more involved music (as does the program).

That said, there is still a lot to like about this program, much like comments for the ensemble's previous recording devoted to Ars Antigua repertory, even if the individual pieces could as well be substituted by various others.... Indeed, the continuity with the Ars Antigua repertory from the same group makes this program particularly worthwhile as a historical progression.

Instruments are not always used to double voices, but are used that way only at times, and mainly enter to play some more intricate motets instrumentally, which tends to spice up the program between the longer & more melodically extended vocal tracks.

And performances by both voices & instruments are excellent to exemplary, from phrasing to tempo to ficta, etc. There is both a great command & fluidity to the interpretations here, likely the most accomplished devoted to Ars Nova sacred polyphony to date. The interpretations are also based relatively close to a long view of plainchant, and return to that grounding throughout the program. There is something powerfully evocative here overall, even if the pieces don't stand out so much individually.

To medieval sacred list

Todd M. McComb