Obrecht: Missa Maria zart

Obrecht: Missa Maria zart
Tallis Scholars - Peter Phillips
Gimell 032

This is perhaps the longest mass of its type, and certainly one of the monuments of Franco-Flemish polyphony. The extended sequences can be quite amazing, although some people find them overly long. Although it can seem out of place in Obrecht's output, this piece can still be quite appealing.

The performance was easily the most successful the Tallis Scholars had done of music in this style to date. The singing is somewhat more articulate and the audibility of texture is much better than in their earlier efforts with e.g. Josquin & Clemens. More importantly, they don't make egregious errors of ficta or rhythm either, a trait which up until now I had considered a "standard" of their Franco-Flemish interpretations. There are still some senseless pauses, as well as a general lack of tautness, but at this point their interpretation has no major problems and can be enjoyed.

For whatever reason, the phrasing and metrical accents work out well enough here, and the entire production is fairly compelling. These aspects are not really true of their following Ockeghem issue, although the remarks of the previous paragraph do apply (and Ockeghem has more ambiguities of phrasing). There is apparently some real affinity between the Tallis Scholars and Obrecht, and so this is a performance which will likely stand for some time, especially given the virtuoso demands of the music itself.

Although recent quality issues devoted to Obrecht have lessened the impact of this recording, it remains valuable. It was named my EM Record of the Year for 1996, and will always remain something of a landmark as the first major Obrecht recording of the CD era (a delay which seems almost surreal even today) as well as the first fairly convincing recording of Franco-Flemish polyphony by the Tallis Scholars. Their strength certainly remains in later music, but here they make a tangible contribution to c.1500 music. Although the ANS Chorus interpretations were better-prepared, the present issue remains worthwhile, and the talent of the singers is evident.

To renaissance sacred list

Todd M. McComb