ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Golden Age of the European Polyphony 1350-1650
PERFORMER: Laudantes Consort/Guy Janssens
CATALOGUE NO: CYP 1630
This admirable project was the brainchild of Jean Slatkin, the recently deceased founder of the National Sound Recordings Library of the French community in Belgium. He persuaded Guy Janssens (best known as the founder of the ensemble Offrande Musicale) to spend six years recording this pageant of sacred polyphony. It is intended ‘neither for professionals, nor for those who arrive at the concert hall during the interval’, but for those who know a little about music and want to know more.
Each of the major composers – Machaut, Ockeghem, Josquin, Gombert, Morales, Tallis, Lassus, Victoria, Byrd and Palestrina – is given a disc each, with a final CD of secular works which includes at least a dozen more composers (and which repeats three works by Lassus heard elsewhere in the collection). The CD-ROM contains an extensive introduction to the medieval period (though most of these pieces are from the Renaissance), notes on the individual works, sound samples of some of the pieces, a glossary of terms and the texts with translations.
Clearly it is taking a risk to present so many famous works already available in excellent recordings, and these versions are not going to compete, for example, with The Clerks’ Group performance of Ockeghem’s Missa Caput (on ASV Gaudeamus) or the Orlando Consort’s disc of Josquin’s motets (on DG Archiv). But the Laudantes Consort is good at warm, block-harmony singing (as at the beginning of Josquin’s ‘Tu solus’), it is capable of tender expressiveness (as in Gombert’s setting of David’s lament for Absalom) and it presents some works not previously recorded (such as Palestrina’s Ecco ego Joannes Mass, or Gombert’s Missa Beati omnes). Sometimes, though, the ensemble is rhythmically insecure (as in the intricate ‘Amen’ of the Gloria of Machaut’s Mass) and the recording quality could be better.
Even so, this set by Janssens is well worth the money for those who want a taste of some of the greatest works ever written – though it lacks the finesse found on the survey of polyphony produced on Eufoda four years ago by his Flemish rival Erik van Nevel (reviewed April 1998).