If Ockeghem's Missa L'Homme Armé was the earliest such to be composed, then perhaps it is not easy to understand why Dufay, Busnois, Caron and others may have been inspired to create their own mass using the tune as the cantus firmus. Ockeghem's work seems under-ambitious by comparison, almost simplistic - the cantus firmus remains easily recognisable, retaining the original rhythm, not stretched out to unfathomable lengths, nor excessively ornamented and buried under immense counterpoint - it's as though he wanted the tune to come to the fore. In the light of this, it seems odd in a way that the ensemble The Sound and the Fury have chosen to retain the L'Homme Armé lyrics in the tenor part at certain points of this performance, a practice not to my purist taste.
England's Orlando Consort, a quartet of male singers augmented as needed by other performers, offers performances of Renaissance vocal music that lie midway between the traditional and the highly individualized modern. Sometimes they veer toward one of those two extremes, but often, as on the present disc, they find a happy medium. Their sound, especially in sacred music, owes much to the English cathedral tradition, but there's a well-honed edge to their one-voice-to-a-part interpretations that brings out the crowds who've recently been drawn to early music. This disc is intended as an introduction to a composer who doesn't always offer easy listening to the modern ear. Netherlander Antoine Busnois, active at the end of the fifteenth century and considered the greatest figure between Dufay and Josquin, wrote music that broke free from elaborate medieval numerology but came in advance of Josquin's perfect marriage of music and text.
The celebrated Choir of Westminster Cathedral goes back to its roots with this recording of some of the towering masterpieces of Renaissance polyphony—a genre which the choir has made its own through the ritual of daily liturgical performance. Recent reviews have declared the choir to be at the peak of its powers, and this disc is an important celebration of a great musical tradition.
Who was this Antoine Brumel? He was a difficult person in every respect and a selfwilled and eccentric composer. A difficult personality is not unusual for a musician, yet his idiosyncrasy was recognized even in his own lifetime.
According to the standards of his time, Brumel's music knows no boundaries, is daring and never strictly academic. Whether this concerns imaginative musical structures, the working-out of counterpoint or the writing of repetitive forms - it is always more or less "outrageous".
The most fascinating of Brumel's works is without a doubt his twelve-part mass ET ECCE TERRAE MOTUS.
Violinist Irvine Arditti, pianist Claude Helffer, and the Spectrum ensemble conducted by Guy Protheroe produce consummate performances of the Greek avant-gardist's unwieldy chamber music. If you're familiar with Xenakis's career you'll know he was trained in mathematics and enjoyed a successful career as an architect. Such background might prepare you for the music's preoccupation with line, volume, and form in an unusually abstract way, but it won't prepare you for its visceral, almost primitive power. On Akanthos, the singer Penelope Walmsley-Clark must cope with what is surely one of the most ridiculous soprano parts ever written.
The cycle of 125 variations that Costanzo Festa composed on the famous melody called La Spagna is conceived on a scale unique during the Renaissance, and may justly be described as a compositional tour-de-force. It has been comparisons to works such as Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations. This budget priced reissue, released for the first time in 2003, features a selection of these variations performed by the Huelgas-Ensemble.