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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2009
Format: Audio CD
...I might not mind going there, despite the company. Josquin's 'Missa L'homme Armé super voces musicales' is the kind of music that, when you're listening to it, you can't help thinking "nothing finer or more sublime has ever been written... not by Bach, not by Beethoven, not even by Monteverdi!" Admittedly, you may have the same thought while listening to other pieces, but my point is that this mass is a 'summit' experience. At least thirty-one L'Homme Armé masses have survived, by most of the greatest composers from Dufay to Palestrina, including Busnois, Obrecht, Brumel, Tinctoris, Mouton, Carver, Regis, da Silva, Morales, and Carissimi. Josquin's is the best. Punto! Even more cerebral and intricate than the one by Johannes Ockeghem, using every device of prolation and counterpoint, and yet serenely melodic and expressive! And then... Josquin wrote another! Missa L'homme Armé sexti toni, and both are recorded on this disk. "Sexti Toni" specifies a major tonality based on F, which makes this a triumphant-sounding, celebratory setting of the liturgy, more forthright than the meditative "super voces" mass. But then, another surprise! The "Agnus Dei" of L'homme armé sexti toni" is cerulean serenity, ethereal beauty, and the utmost mathematical intricacy, the loveliest eight minutes you'll ever live!

Music historians have struggled to account for the sheer number of L'Homme Armé masses that were composed. The 'song' is a quirky, jerky little melody with just one enigmatic verse of words, warning everyone to fear the "armed man" and to arm oneself with an haubregon of iron. Some musicologists have supposed that the song is a reference to the Crusades, particularly against the Turks. My own hypothesis is that the entire set of masses were commissioned by members of the aristocratic, international confraternity called The Order of the Golden Fleece. It's well established that L'homme armé was the anthem of the Order, which had convocations on a regular basis at which mass would certainly have been celebrated.

I've been known to criticize The Tallis Scholars for a certain kind of choral complacency, but their recordings of Josquin are their best work. The two masses here, recorded in 1989, are sung beautifully and insightfully. I can't imagine a finer performance.

This seems as good a place as any to list all the verified Josquin masses, with what I consider the best available recording of each:
L'ami Baudichon CAPELLA ALAMIRE
L'Homme Armé super voces TALLIS SCHOLARS
L'Homme Armé sexti toni TALLIS SCHOLARS
Ave Maris Stella DUFAY ENSEMBLE
De Beata Virgine THEATRE OF VOICES
Pange Lingua ENSEMBLE CLEMENT JANEQUIN
Fortuna Desperata TALLIS SCHOLARS or CLERKS' GROUP
Malheur me Bat TALLIS SCHOLARS or CLERKS' GROUP
Mater Patris CHANTICLEER
Hercules Dux Ferrariae HILLIARD ENSENBLE
La Sol Fa Re Mi TALLIS SCHOLARS
Sine Nomine TALLIS SCHOLARS
Ad Fugam TALLIS SCHOLARS
Gaudeamus A SEI VOCI
[Hurray! I can replace Sei Voci on this list! Missa gaudeamus is on a CD called Musica Symbolica, sung by De Labyrintho]
Di Dadi MEDIEVAL ENSEMBLE OF LONDON
Faysant Regretz CLERKS' GROUP or MEDIEVAL ENSEMBLE OF LONDON
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2006
Format: Audio CD
I've discovered Josquin quite recently and I am still bewildered. Hailed as greatest composer during his lifetime, his legacy was forgotten until the second half of 20th century, when he reappeared as the only realistic opponent to Bach's hold on greatest composer's title. Both of them have written only exceptionally good music, built upon unmatched mastery of counterpoint and deep understanding of words set on text. The technical and artistic challenges are in both cases very high. The music of Josquin can be meaningfully sung only by world's most accomplished assembles and even they have a certain reluctance for live interpretation. The primary reason is the rather impossible vocal range required for each part (superius, alto, tenor, basso).

In his particular recording, two different settings on a rather boring song are provided.

First of all, the song, a Crusaders' battle chanson of whom many Medieval and Renaissance composers have built missae settings. It is incredibly plain, repetitive and one is again bewildered how could Josquin build masterpieces with such second-rate theme.

Now the missae! Super voces musicales is written entirely in the old medieval tradition. It is so extremely difficult, practically no other group has attempted to tackle with it (only one, as far as I know). This provides testimony to Josquin singers’ level of training. The music is utterly beautiful, in fact the most beautiful vocal music I've ever heard. Bach almost appears too modern by comparison. It is totally unlike Palestrina, it has only the strictest of counterpoint but in comparison to the latter, it is fuelled by a much greater inventiveness and power of variation. Observe how each movement keeps the main theme in sight, but never falls into repetition.

The second mass, Sexti toni, is written in typical Renaissance style. Because the transition from Medieval (Ars Nova) to Renaissance has been very gradual (even Ockeghem and Dufay had elements of Renaissance), the difference looks great only into musicologists' trained ears. For the general public, it is obvious both were done by the same hand. Vocally, Sexti toni is relatively easy, each voice type being used in its normal range. However, it is also artistically weaker compared to the former. Musicologists say the contrary, perhaps by the poor assumption a mature work is by default better than an earlier one. Age however is no more an indication of improvement as of senility.

For their exceptional performance of these ignored works, Tallis Scholars have only strengthened their title as world's leading Early music ensemble. Had their interpretation been poor, I would still hail their attempt to bring these works out of oblivion.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
--Josquin des Prez--
Josquin des Prez was one of the greatest Dutch composers. Born about 1450, he worked through much of his career in church positions. A student of Johan Ockeghem, a Flemish contrapuntist, he developed this considerably during his career. A singer in papal choirs under two popes, Josquin also spent time in Florence and Burgundy. One of his star pupils wrote a book of music methodology in which Josquin is described as 'princeps musicorum'. Josquin's contrapuntal style differs from straight polyphony in points of emphasis, but were universally admired in his time, and continue to be used in churches to this day. Josquin died in 1521
--L'homme arme--
This is a very popular Renaissance melody upon which dozens of masses were set in the period. There are two by Josquin des Prez alone. The earliest sources of the tune come from the fifteenth century, by which time there were already half a dozen masses composed using this idea. The rough translation provided is 'Fear the armed man; word has gone out that everyone should arm himself with chainmail coat of iron'. This might have been inspired by the crusades.
--Missa L'homme arme super voces musicales and Missa L'homme arme sexti toni--
These two mass settings are very different. The first, super voces musicales, repeats the melody line form L'homme arme frequently. It is a bit more 'old fashioned' than the later mass, which adopts a major key. The later mass, sexti toni, incorporates more voices - it ranks among his most accomplished pieces, reminiscent of Palestrina and Josquin in many ways (Peter Phillips even makes a comparison to the modern composer Philip Glass for the minimalism in the final Agnus Dei, but don't let that scare you).
--Liner Notes--
Being internationally acclaimed, the Tallis Scholars' CDs typically present their commentary and texts in English, French, German and Italian; that is true of this disc, including a musical setting of the anonymous chanson L'homme arme on page 16. The cover art also typically represents visual arts contemporary with the compositions - here it is an illustration from the Livre du Cueur d'Amours Espris, from the Austrian National Library of Vienna. One drawback is that there is little information on the Tallis Scholars or Peter Phillips in the booklet.
--The Tallis Scholars--
The Tallis Scholars, a favourite group of mine since the first time I heard them decades ago, are a group dedicated to the performance and preservation of the best of this type of music. A choral group of exceptional ability, I have been privileged to see them many times in public, and at almost every performance, their singing seems almost like a spiritual epiphany for me, one that defies explanation in words. Directed by Peter Phillips, the group consists of a small number of male and female singers who have trained themselves well to their task.
Their recordings are of a consistent quality that deserve more than five stars; this particular disc of pieces of Josquin des Prez deserves a place of honour in the collection of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. The music on this disc was originally recorded in 1989 at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Norfolk, one of their favourite recording sites.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2011
Format: Audio CD
These two masses are magnificent works, but this interpretation leaves much to be desired. Let me first acknowledge that nobody in the world sings this repertoire with better intonation or crisper entries than the Tallis Scholars (they are helped in this by the relatively dry acoustic that they record in). But it has always seemed to me that the Tallis Scholars are so overwhelmed by their perfect intonation that they feel they can stop there, and this disk is a case in point. Let me enumerate what I think are some of this recording's failings:

Tempi: There is little variation in the tempi chosen by Phillips for the various sections of these masses.
Dynamics: These singers have been trained to sing with relatively little variation in volume, and since phrasing is really dependent on variation in volume, well.....
Sound Structure: This is a top-down recording, with the music transposed up to fit the best-sounding part of the sopranos' range, and the sopranos then dominating the texture. These masses, like almost all of Josquin's sacred music, should really be constructed from the tenor outwards.
Musica Ficta: Phillips is terribly conservative when it comes to applying musica ficta in Josquin's cadential formulas, perhaps in order to make the music sound more modal or "medieval".

In short, this interpretation turns Josquin's masses into lovely late-Medieval background music. There will never be a wrong note or an exciting climax to distract you from whatever else you are doing....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2006
Format: Audio CD
For me the best Tallis Scholars disk. If you want to know why this ensemble is playing in another league compare with the same works interpreted by A Sei Voci, also an excellent Josquin ensemble .. they come not near ...
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2005
Format: Audio CD
I love this CD - every track (actually, the intro track is not terribly wonderful, but it's only a minute or so long, and supposedly sets the context for the rest of the music ... but I just skip it). Highly recommended.

The final 'Agnus Dei' alone is worth the purchase of the CD - haunting, beautiful, outstanding! You could be listening to something from the present ... it's totally timeless.

And if no one told you, you'd have no idea it was religious music. Not being raised in churches, I'd never heard anything like it and loved it. My partner, on the other hand, was raised a Catholic and this music brought back memories of a church-bound upbringing.
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on September 22, 2007
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Incredible voices and vocal interaction. The lack of an instrument is an asset in this type of music and these people are masters of voice. Great composition and feeling as well. This is gift, I, of course have one for myself!
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on December 18, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Fantastic music- got this to accompany a series by The Great Courses called "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music" This brings the course to life.
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