Dufay: Missa Se la face ay pale; Flos florum; Anima mea; Moribus

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dufay
LABELS: Hilliard Live 4
WORKS: Missa Se la face ay pale; Flos florum; Anima mea; Moribus
PERFORMER: Hilliard Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: (available from tel 01904 636111)
The Hilliard Ensemble is, like Caesar’s wife, all things to all men. Its repertory ranges from plainsong to the music of Arvo Pärt, but its recordings of 15th-century music do seem to have a rather special quality. Virgin Veritas recently reissued its discs of English music from that period, and the group has now turned to continental music with an anthology of songs (Sweet Love, Sweet Hope – reviewed December 1996) and this splendid account of the Missa Se la face ay pale written in the 1450s by the great Guillaume Dufay.

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The only serious rival to the current disc is David Munrow’s attractive 1974 recording of the Mass reissued on Virgin Veritas two years ago. Munrow’s disc also provides, unlike the Hilliard one, the love song upon which the Mass is based, but his singers are accompanied (rather unnecessarily) by instruments, and their pacing is erratic, being achingly slower than the Hilliard in the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus, and hectically quicker in the Credo and Sanctus. The Hilliard disc is a live recording, which gives rise to some distracting noises (especially in the Agnus) and some missed opportunities in the musical detail (such as the vocal imitation at the beginning of the Credo), but the sense of a musical journey is overwhelming. I enjoyed, too, the wayward but brilliant account of Flos florum, sung for once as if it were a love song rather than a motet. Finally, the disc (like some others in the Hilliard Live series) has a hidden recording placed on the last track after several minutes of silence: what the work was or meant, I know not – apparently even Caesar’s wife has her secrets. Anthony Pryer