Ockeghem: Missa Prolationum

Ockeghem: Missa Prolationum
L'ultima parola
Raum Klang 3902

In some ways, I don't have a lot to say about this release: The music is centered on one of the long acknowledged great works of its era, and the performance sets new standards for clarity in all areas. Maybe this is the start of a new era of recordings of music from this period, where everything just seems right? (I don't want to be unfair to previous musicians, but there's been a lot of progress on performing this music. And it doesn't seem so long ago that I was forced — well, that or nothing! — to hail various highly compromised interpretations....)

Regarding the music, entirely in canon, the Missa Prolationum is clearly one of Ockeghem's central mass cycles. And although it might seem formalistic, it's the supple writing of the two musical lines (doubled differently by canons in each movement) that create its magic, as the affective (ritual) quality of the piece remains remarkably high — especially in this fine (& rather austere) reading. And Mort tu as navré is one of Ockeghem's great works as well, albeit already possessing other quality interpretations on record....

The Missa Prolationum has been recorded many times too, but this rendition definitely sets new standards. As noted, everything is very clear: Phrasing & diction are crisp, voices are audible individually but also add into a potent blend, tuning is precise & idiomatic, sonorities are pleasing.... Even the recorded sound quality is very clear (which I wouldn't normally emphasize, given that this is a 21st century recording, but as noted in these spaces of late, there still seem to be issues regarding how much resonance or direct presence to maintain, and getting the balance right has apparently proven tricky for some otherwise fine interpretations...). Moreover, the parts are apparently sung at written pitch (as hasn't been typical), and this improves the coherence of the music considerably. It's difficult music to sing, but instead of compromising via transposition, L'ultima parola went out there & did it. (What has taken so long to get to this result? Quite simply, it's the combination of building the historical-conceptual knowledge incrementally & also of training singers who can physically sing the music idiomatically! These two factors enrich each other, or else one might say, sometimes have to wait for the other to catch up....)

As far as criticisms? Compared to what's available, I don't find any compromises here, in terms of my own preferences. However, if I'm to mention possible issues, of course there's a woman singing (as one of the four, individual parts) — she sounds good, but it's not authentic (& pace the comments above, I'll underline that actually being able to sing the piece is an easy preference for me!). And then their pace is generally rather slow, especially in the memorial motet: I actually like it (& it's not easier), but prior studies have argued that going more slowly indicates a "reverential" approach to historical music that likewise isn't prompted by its era. (The performers don't address this in the program notes, so perhaps they have a tangible reason....)

A very easy album to recommend! This album was also named my co-EM Record of the Year for 2021....

To renaissance sacred list.

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 4 January 2022