The Sword & the Lily – 15th-century Polyphony for Judgement Day
Works by Brumel, Martini, Ockeghem, Regis
Fount & Origin/James Tomlinson
Inventa INV1008 67:57 mins
This, Fount & Origin’s debut album, leads me to hope for many sequels. The group was founded by James Tomlinson in 2018 with a mission to rediscover and revive unknown and/or neglected works from the late Middle Ages. The group received the Stile Antico Ensemble Development Bursary for 2019–22, and cancellation of concerts during Covid lockdowns notwithstanding, it enabled them to develop various projects, culminating in this recording. Consisting of two altos (one male, one female, with Joy Sutcliffe soloing radiantly on Clare sanctorum senatus), three tenors, a baritone and two basses, they produce a warm, clear, luminous sound, with the parts beautifully blended yet clearly articulated and well served by the acoustic ambience of St John the Evangelist, Oxford.
For what the ensemble describes as a meditation on the Franco-Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden’s altarpiece depicting the Last Judgement, they have selected nine mid- to late-15th century compositions (six apparently never recorded before) that are in some way tied to an element or figure in the painting. The right-hand panels, on Christ’s left hand, depict some pretty grim goings-on (things aren’t ending well for unrepentant sinners) and the work was commissioned for a hospice for the sick and dying to help them meditate on their possible fates and, presumably, repent whilst they could. While some of the texts contain dire warnings, the music (often mixing plainchant with polyphony) is full of gorgeous sonorities and graceful melodies. Even Brumel’s setting of the chilling Dies Irae conveys gentle compassion.