This is yet another double album of significant mass cycles by La Rue. (I'll set aside my ongoing lament wondering why it's still mostly mass cycles being recorded....) Although the performance is a little rougher around the edges than e.g. more recent items from "successor" ensemble Beauty Farm, it's still quite accomplished & welcome: Articulation is mostly strong (although the powerful bass lines of the second disc present problems in this regard), while rhythm & ficta are generally aggressive. Tuning is relative to the tenor, and handled very well (despite what some are sure to cite as lack of an ethereal, treble-oriented surface). These are not landmark interpretations, but they're quality performances, and add significantly to La Rue's recorded discography.
While not quite as technical as the canonic masses on the group's previous La Rue album, the Missa Paschale is nonetheless highly constrained, with two preexisting tunes (which vary) at all times. The music then operates within this "straightjacket" to produce one of La Rue's most compelling ritual settings, and so one of the era's most significant Easter cycles. (There's a lot of theology embedded here that I'm not going to attempt to disentangle any time soon, but La Rue's command of "mystery" per se is well worth noting.)
And whereas the Missa Ista est speciosa is the one cycle here not to have really caught my attention previously, it's also perhaps the most directly appealing on this double album.... (Perhaps I'll add some further remarks about that at some point, which will likewise require some exploration of theology.)
Of course, the second disc reprises the Ensemble Clément Janequin classic program, and consists of two of La Rue's most virtuosic settings, albeit with very different purposes. (And here, the theology involved is relatively well known.) The Missa L'homme armé is an exuberant, youthful work that already challenges the flexibility of the voices here, incorporating both many high highs & low lows. It comes off as a bit unwieldy (& makes me wonder more what the later, attributed L'homme armé setting might be like). The Requiem almost suffers — suddenly — from an embarrassment of riches at this point, and likewise challenges the ensemble.... I do enjoy this second disc, but not as much as the first, although who knows what I might have thought had this Requiem appeared first. (And perhaps the uneven quality of the second album, particularly pace the discography of these relatively popular pieces, is what delayed the release?)
Do note that this is an older recording only released for the La Rue 500th anniversary.
Note also that I continue to admire the Diabolus in Musica version of the La Rue Requiem, and now find it to fit most neatly under the Ockeghem heading....
To renaissance sacred listTodd M. McComb