LUDFORD Missa Dominica
Nicholas Ludford is one of the most intriguing of early Tudor composers, a healthy proportion of whose surviving work has made it to the discography. Somewhat surprisingly, though, none of his set of seven Lady Masses has so far been committed to disc as far as I know. This new recording fills a gap in the catalogue, then – indeed, it does rather more than that, for these three-voice works are subtly different in style from Ludford’s festal Masses, the polyphony less florid, though just as beguiling. Ludford set only alternative verses of the Mass sections, leaving the others to be sung in plainchant, but Ensemble Scandicus go one better here, setting some of these plainchant verses polyphonically in an improvised style known as ‘faburden’, at times stretching to three added voices. This practice, though well documented, is seldom attempted in modern-day recordings, so their initiative is particularly welcome, opening as it does a window on to a literally unsung aspect of early Renaissance polyphony.
Ensemble Scandicus is an all-male group whose earthy timbre recalls that of another French ensemble, Diabolus in Musica. The voices are very well matched and the ensemble is on the whole very good; most of all, the singers’ feel for the music is such that the occasional unevenness or technical solecism doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Indeed, Ludford’s polyphony is so often sung with high voices that this darker interpretation is yet another way in which Ensemble Scandicus offers something refreshingly different.