Nicholas Ludford, Volume 3
The much-acclaimed ASV Ludford project continues with Vol. 3 and two five-voice works, the motet Domine Jesu Christe and the Mass Christi virgo. Though the latter is on a more modest scale than the six-voice works of the first two volumes, the restraint of the opening bars (repeated in each movement, as with all festal Mass cycles of this period) is every bit as compelling as the more ornate head-motifs of Videte miraculum and Benedicta. The Cardinall's Musick deliver clear and serviceable readings, but my reservations concerning Vol. 2 (12/93) remain. Tempos are on the slow side, and the excessive uniformity of tone production is problematic because textural contrasts play a lesser role in these pieces than in the more richly scored works of the previous instalments. What is lacking is a sense of the works' individuality, the clear articulation of their defining moments: in a word, interpretation.
I am also troubled by the excessive proportion of chant on the disc (over a third). The setting of polyphonic Masses in their 'proper liturgical context' is one of several innovations introduced under the banner of performance practice; this has led to convincing reinterpretations of key works (the Taverner Consort's Machaut disc—8/88—springs to mind, or the more recent Ockeghem issue—2/94—from the Ensemble Organum), but here the chant performances do little to enhance our understanding of the polyphony. Surely the selection of the appropriate plainsong is as much a matter of programme balance as of liturgical propriety. Besides, sceptics will argue that the proper context for sacred music is a church service, not a living-room. Though it is difficult to recommend this issue to the first-time buyer (Vol. 1, 7/93, remaining the first port of call), those already converted to Ludford's music will not want to go without.'