Josquin: Missa Quem dicunt homines

The Spirit like a Dove
Apollo5 / Ingenium Ensemble
VCM Records 122

This album marks a moment in which I'd say the Josquin discography is truly in a state of flux, not just my own list of favorite recordings, but in general. Whereas the Missa Quem dicunt homines was rejected as part of Josquin's authentic output more than fifty years ago, this recording makes a rather strong case that, although the style is atypical for Josquin, he is still the most likely author. Obviously, such a suggestion threatens to rearrange what we know about the arc of Josquin's musical development — an arc that was already unclear on multiple fronts, between misattributions & other points of uncertainty.

Will this part of the discography take a clear shape again? We'll see. (I certainly never expected it to become so long.)

In the meantime, whether this Missa Quem dicunt homines — and it's part of a series of parody masses on the same material — is actually by Josquin, while fascinating in terms of Josquin (& indeed modernity) studies, is largely irrelevant when it comes to the quality of the music: This is a very sophisticated parody mass, somewhat eccentric in including a motet between Sanctus & Benedictus, but featuring fast & energetic motives within a polished rhetorical context. It would appear to be a rather singular work, with both a jagged quality to the individual lines & a balanced overall flow.

My first impression of the interpretation by this unknown mixed choir was not terribly positive, but by the second audition, the musical argument that the project makes was becoming too intriguing to ignore. Actually, the interpretation of the two Josquin pieces — and the previously unrecorded, authentic motet presents some severe interpretive constraints — is quite strong: The modern "sighing" character that I don't usually enjoy is part of the opening Richafort motet (which is valuable for context, but nothing special in itself). After that, there is a real tautness to the material & to the interpretation. Still, whereas there's actually a potent sense of rhythm & coherent pulse here, the vocal timbre is relatively subdued.

It seems as though recent albums, or at least those catching my ear, have to do more with curiosities from the beginnings of the 1500s, such as this, in effect stretching our conceptions of what composers were doing — specifically in these large form cycles — leading into the mandate to simplify church music. So what else is there? More variety & other creative solutions continue to appear.

To renaissance sacred list

Todd M. McComb