Missa Grecorum & motets
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA 68216
The late 15th century musical scene on the continent was dominated by Josquin des Prez, Johannes Ockeghem and Jacob Obrecht (1457/8-1505). We hear quite a lot about the first two, but Obrecht seems to have had a problematic life and ended up dying of plague in Ferrara. Only a handful of his splendid works have been recorded before – and most on this disc are new to CD. Luckily, too, this recording benefits from the New Obrecht Collected Works and from the expert researches of Rob Wegman, who identified the Agnus on the last track as a lost work of the composer.
These compositions create a number of challenges for the performers. First there are the endless melismatic lines, often devoid of cadences and bearing little relation to word length or accentuation. In the Mater Patris motet and elsewhere it is sometimes difficult to hear the text at all. As for the majestic Missa Grecorum the sung pitch is unusually low. The performers manage to give these ‘dark meanderings’ some shape and purpose with contrasts of mood (a reflective ‘Qui tollis’ and a lively ‘Et resurrexit’), vigorous interplay between the voices (the opening of the Gloria), and some surprising musica ficta harmonies (‘sepultus est’ from the end of ‘Et incarnatus’). They are at their most splendid in the motet O beata Basili (though the claim that it has never been recorded before is not quite correct), and in the soaring heights of the ‘o pia’ section of the Salve Regina.