Ockeghem, Basiron, Morton

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COMPOSERS: Basiron,Morton,Ockeghem
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Missa L’homme armé; Missa sine nomine
PERFORMER: The Clerks’ Group/Edward Wickham
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 204
Compositions based on the L’homme armé tune were all the vogue in the mid-15th century. This was probably something to do with the revival of the idea of a crusade after the Turks attacked Constantinople in 1453. Ockeghem’s Mass based on the melody must be among the earliest of these works and is not easy to perform satisfactorily. The fragments of the tune create an oddly sectionalised structure and the melody is sometimes engulfed in thick layers of polyphony. Only singers of the stature of the Clerks’ Group could begin to make sense of this very special kind of music. Even they falter a little in the Gloria with its collisions of duple and triple rhythms, but the later movements unfold before us like lovely detailed landscapes. The cheaper recording of this work by the Oxford Camerata (Naxos) is more of a bumpy ride in the fog. It overemphasises the fragments of the tune and the textures are very fuzzy. Also it cannot match the experience in this repertoire of the Clerks, who have now recorded almost all of Ockeghem’s 14 Masses.

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The other major work on this disc, the Missa sine nomine for three voices, presents other problems: it is not sectionalised but endlessly fluid, and its three voices constantly overlap in range and material. Here the Clerks’ Group is at its best, smoothly urging the music on and allowing the close-knit voices to swim together with astonishing choreography – which becomes mesmerising and magical in the repeat of the ‘Osanna’. Now, at last, Ockeghem makes sense. Anthony Pryer