WORKS: Messe de Tournai; St Luke Passion
PERFORMER: Benjamin Rayfield (tenor), Francis Brett (bass); Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555861
This is another very enterprising disc from Naxos which couples the earliest-known polyphonic Mass setting with the earliest-known setting of the St Luke Passion. Both have been recorded before – the Tournai Mass on Harmonia Mundi in 1990 and the Passion on Libra in 1987 – but this recording provides worthy competition for those past efforts.
The Mass is probably not the work of a single composer, but a compilation of polyphonic settings composed between c1280-c1330. The choir has to cope with a variety of styles from the switchback, archaic rhythms of the Kyrie (snappily done, and with nice dynamic contrast) to the complex melismas of the Amen at the end of the Gloria (performed with captivating excitement). The ‘Ite missa est’, though, suffers from some off-key lower voices. Most of the 15th-century (English) St Luke Passion is in plainsong, sung beautifully but neutrally except for the point where Jesus ‘gave up the ghost’, though other moments (‘if possible remove this cup from me’) might have merited a more emotional presentation. The polyphonic sections mostly provide settings of the words of the crowds (‘Crucify him’, etc); nuances in the dramatic temperature behind such words are neatly controlled by Antony Pitts, though usually through dynamic contrast rather than changes of speed. Anthony Pryer