Dufay: Missa ‘Ecce ancilla domini’; Proprium ‘De angelis Dei officium’

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LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Missa ‘Ecce ancilla domini’; Proprium ‘De angelis Dei officium’
PERFORMER: Ensemble Gilles Binchois/ Dominique Vellard
In 1467, Piero de’Medici called Dufay ‘the greatest ornament of our age’, but today few people know more than a handful of his songs. This Missa Ecca ancilla Domini is one of his four late Masses, and it’s performed here with Propers – chants specific to a particular feast in the Church year – from an anonymous cycle of around 1440, possibly by Dufay himself. All four Masses are based on a pre-existent melody that is carried as a cantus firmus in the tenor, but this setting is unique in that it uses two different melodies: the antiphon Ecce ancilla Domini in the first half of each movement and Beata es Maria in the second half. Although it’s perhaps his most contemplative Mass, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois offers a fairly muscular performance – the full textures are luxuriant, but at the same time, individual voice parts are clearly delineated. Their intonation is not always secure in the more exposed passages, and the ensemble is occasionally slack, but this is nevertheless a musical account, with a virility so often missing from English vocal ensembles. A welcome addition to the thin catalogue of Dufay recordings. Kate Bolton