Josquin des Prez Miserere mei, Deus; De profundis clamavi, etc
Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902620 66:10 mins
An entire disc of funeral motets and deplorations might not sound like fun, but Josquin’s music and the timeless poetry of his texts assuage and transcend. The beautifully shaped programme starts with Josquin’s celebrated tributes to his older contemporary Ockeghem and closes with Nicolas Gombert’s memorial to Josquin, the elegiac Musae Jovis. Both composers thread the ‘Circumdederunt me’ plainchant into their works, so the circular sequence creates a chain of echoes reflecting the chant’s words: ‘The sorrows of death have encircled me’. Between these bookends, progressing chronologically, are settings of Biblical texts: David’s lament on the death of his son Absalom, woven here into a muted musical shroud, and the motet cycle Planxit autem David – the Israelite king’s plangent outpourings for Saul and Jonathan, which Josquin carves into a lucid and consolatory epitaph. Also associated with David are two psalm settings: the dark five-part De profundis – with its haunting canonic writing – and the monumental Miserere, which (unlike Allegri’s famously seraphic response) is a starkly penitential work.
Conductor Daniel Reuss shapes fluid, softly contoured lines here; his tempos are never too ponderous, so Josquin’s polyphony flows like honeyed balm. Boyish-sounding sopranos and sonorous lower voices caress with a velvety sound. Polyphonic lines are clean, words are clear, expressive devices aptly introspective. The acoustic of Amsterdam’s Walloon Church, built during Josquin’s lifetime, adds a delicate bloom without being too splashy. As the first of a projected trio of discs devoted to Franco-Flemish composers, it promises lovely things to come.