WORKS: Missa L’homme armé; Anima mea liquefacta est; Gaude celestis domina
PERFORMER: Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67319
The L’homme armé Mass by Antoine Busnois (d1492) was probably intended for use at ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a chivalric community organised by the Dukes of Burgundy in the 15th century, and one apparently associated with polyphonic Masses based on a tune celebrating ‘the armed man’.
The challenges of this brilliant work are well handled by the Binchois Consort. At the opening of the Agnus Dei, for example, the singers move from a sparse duet with a barely perceptible emphasis on the second voice (which carries the tune), to some freewheeling melismas against the main metre, and then on to a full texture with the tune hidden (upside down) and unemphasised in the lowest voice. These careful performance gradations result in great clarity and balance, but the singing can be slightly hard-edged and mechanical. Not so in the two pieces by composers associated with the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp – Domarto and Pullois. In Domarto’s Mass, for example, the phrasing and directional aspects have been fully internalised by the singers, resulting in a magical Gloria and Agnus Dei in which the compositional peaks also become expressive highpoints – perhaps a virtue even in the 15th century. Anthony Pryer