LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Messe Et ecce terrae motus
PERFORMER: Ensemble Clément Janequin, Les Sacqueboutiers/Dominique Visse
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901738
Antoine Brumel was born around 1460 and was perhaps the first great Renaissance composer of French, rather than Netherlands, origin. His colossal and splendid ‘Earthquake’ Mass (as it is commonly known) for 12 voices is a tour de force of part-writing, and has attracted various partial or complete recordings including those from David Munrow (on EMI), the Tallis Scholars (on Gimell) and Paul Van Nevel (on Sony). This latest performance from Dominique Visse has some great strengths, but the forces at work in the music shake its foundations slightly too often for this to be an enduring recording.
First, though, the strengths. There is a massiveness and magnificence to the unfolding sound here which truly creates a sense of occasion – especially in the opening Kyrie and the long setting of the Credo. In the Sanctus duets we hear some of the dexterity of the individual voices, which are attractively tense and slightly hard-edged: such acerbic vocal colours, accompanied by instruments, are almost certainly more faithful to the original French Renaissance continental sound. The rest, though, is a matter of musicianship: too often the balance between voices and instruments is vastly in favour of the latter; in the ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ of the Sanctus the performers do not enter together; and in parts of the Kyrie the texture is an amorphous fog. This is an impressionist performance; good at surface impact, less clear on the details. If in doubt go for the neatly painted but moving performance by the Tallis Scholars. Anthony Pryer