Dufay: O gemma, lux: the complete isorhythmic motets

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COMPOSERS: Dufay
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: O gemma, lux: the complete isorhythmic motets
PERFORMER: Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901700
In the medieval period, special occasions of state or church were often accompanied by grand motets. These 13 examples by Guillaume Dufay (d1474) show the tradition at its brilliant best, with items for the dedication of churches (‘Apostolo glorioso’, ‘Nuper rosarum flores’), the coronation of the Pope (‘Ecclesie militantis’) and other important ceremonies and calamities of the age.

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This first-ever complete recording of Dufay’s extraordinary pieces is a major achievement. Van Nevel’s fast-moving, clear and robust textures frequently have the edge over rival attempts at particular works by the Orlando Consort (Metronome, 1995), Pomerium (DG Archiv, 1997) and the Binchois Consort (Hyperion, 1998). However, he relies on some decidedly ambiguous evidence to sanction his use of sackbuts for the lower parts in preference to the all-vocal performances usually favoured now. And in the never-before-recorded ‘Salve flos Tusce’ the voices are overwhelmed by the loud tenor sackbuts sounding an octave lower than they should. That said, his unorthodox use of dynamics in ‘O sancte Sebastiane’ is entrancing, and the ecstatic roulades of ‘Fulgens iubar’ (written in honour of a singer) are clear as a bell. A fitting monument to some monumental music of a bygone age. Anthony Pryer