(A) History of the Requiem, Vol 1
This is the first of a set of four CDs traversing the history of the Requiem, a project that will span six centuries, including the 21st. As the earliest extant polyphonic setting (Dufay’s having been lost), Ockeghem’s is a logical choice; that said, there are already many recordings of it, and several other fine early settings which could plausibly have figured in its place. Whether or not it’s a reviewer’s place to question a programming decision, the fact remains that the competition – from the likes of the Hilliard Ensemble (EMI, 2/89 – nla), the Clerk’s Group (ASV, 5/97) or Ensemble Organum (Harmonia Mundi, 2/94) – is pretty fierce, and though Laudantes are secure enough technically and sound pleasant enough, there’s no point pretending that they really match the more specialised ensembles. The pyrotechnics (both vocal and notational) of the Offertory in particular suggest that reduced sections anyway are best suited to soloists, whereas the approach taken here is choral throughout. The extended duos of the Tract and the Offertory expose misreadings that ought to have been picked up by the producer.
The ensemble sounds far more at ease in the Lassus five-voice Requiem, for which a choral rendition is far easier to argue, independent of any questions of performance practice. But here also there are audible misreadings between singers on the same line. For all the even rougher edges of Pro Cantione Antiqua’s now rather dated reading (DHM), they more nearly approach the pathos which, with Lassus, is never far below the surface. Those who find PCA’s reading altogether too rough for comfort would probably be justified in preferring the new one, but a more intensive search for this work’s expressive potential must be possible.