Dufay Mass for St James etc

Author: 
David Fallows

Dufay Mass for St James etc

  • Missa S Jacobi
  • Rite majorem Jacobum canamus/Arcibus summis miseri
  • Balsamus et munda cera/Isti sunt agni novelli
  • Gloria "Resurrexit dominus" and Credo "Dic Maria"
  • Apostolo glorioso

This is Dufay as I have always wanted to hear him. In what is only their second CD (the first was on Hyperion, 9/96), The Binchois Consort show absolute mastery of Dufay’s difficult early style, with immaculate balance, wonderfully free phrasing, and crystalline clarity. Moreover in the Missa S Jacobi Andrew Kirkman shows an uncanny ability to set the perfect tempo every time, so that the music emerges with its full force.
The Missa S Jacobi is an odd but supremely important work. It is one of two early Dufay Mass cycles that have rarely been recorded, partly because they are less obviously part of the grand tradition than his later four-voice cantus firmus Masses. And this one is particularly difficult because its many different textures and styles present a severe challenge if it is not to seem fragmented and incoherent. Here it stands as a glorious masterpiece, its nine movements spanning over 40 minutes, with the various styles acting as necessary contrast and culminating in the famous Communion that Heinrich Besseler many years ago argued was the earliest example of Fauxbourdon writing.
Strangely, two of the motets work less well: both the earlier Rite majorem and the later Balsamus seem to go too fast for the details to have their full effect, perhaps because they are so strikingly different in style from the other works performed here. And it seems a touch perverse to use the now fashionable ‘old French’ pronunciation of Latin, particularly in a motet composed for a papal ceremony (even if the original singers would have been Franco-Flemish): in all his early motets the text seems centrally important, and this kind of pronunciation loses too many of the consonants.
But the Italian-texted Apostolo glorioso is again quite superb, as is the astonishing Gloria and Credo pair. Briefly, then, this is as close to a perfect Dufay CD as I have heard.'

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