Josquin Desprez - Missa de Beata Virgine. Missa Ave maris stella. Credo quarti toni
Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM044 Buy now
(76’ • DDD)
This is a neatly selected group of pieces. Josquin’s Missa de Beata Virgine was by far his most successful work, to judge from the enormous number of early copies that still survive; but it has had far less luck in modern times, being in many ways the least obviously Josquinian and the least obviously beautiful of his Masses. Even so, if there’s one thing that recent Josquin research has tended to show, it is that it is time to be a little less confident about our own musical instincts and to find ways of loving something like the Missa de Beata Virgine in all its apparent ungainliness. And the Tallis Scholars have made this a lot easier, because theirs is a performance one wants to listen to many times.
Alongside this they have what is perhaps the loveliest of his Masses, the Ave maris stella, flowing and graceful throughout, even if the ‘Pleni’ seems a touch long and the singers rather hammer the life out of the ‘Osanna’. And then they provide us with a serious rarity, the Credo quarti toni, known from only a single manuscript (which is always a bit suspicious) but – as John Milsom argues in his lucid note about it – showing a fairly strong documentary case for its really being by Josquin.
Partly because of their success, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars tend to divide music lovers. For my own part I’m happy to live with the women’s voices (I mean: what voices!) and a certain sameness in the interpretations for the absolute clarity, the absolute efficiency, the certainty that nobody is messing around with you. These are authoritative performances that can stand the test of time.