The Brightest Heaven of Invention
This is a special one, tailored for those who like their music unusual, powerful and fascinating. During the last third of the fifteenth century the motet may not have held the foreground quite in the same way as the ambitious, newly-minted mass cycle. But many composers used the motet for some of their most intriguing experiments. Freed from the constraints of liturgy, they could be to a certain extent self-indulgent. For some listeners the very notions of self-indulgence and experiment may be discouraging; but these were composers of an unusual vitality, and every one of the pieces on this record is thoroughly absorbing.
So the New London Chamber Choir lead off with O admirabile commercium by Regis, a strange piece by one of the strangest composers of his generation: ideas and tunes charge in and out at a bewildering rate, building a musical edifice that is astonishingly satisfying. There is almost as much of the unpredictable in the works by Brumel and Obrecht, possibly more familiar figures, but men whose range of styles has by no means yet been encompassed on record: both are represented here by unfamiliar sides of their output. Then there is the glorious Busnois, heard through the medium of his motet honouring Ockeghem and the strange 'bell' motet for St Anthony (an astonishing exercise in musical textures). And the collection is rounded out by more famous works of Dufay and Josquin, both presented in fresh and surprising readings.
In fact 'fresh' may be the right word for all the performances here. James Wood has no time for a romantic reading of this music: the edges are hard (sometimes perhaps just a touch too hard), the tone colour is bright and transparent, and the singing is always spirited. This is a semi-professional ensemble, with women on the top line, but what they yield to the slicker groups they compensate for with their energy. It is hard to remain unaffected.
The record is plainly the brain-child of