Secret History: Sacred music by Josquin, Victoria, Heringman, Mouton etc

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COMPOSERS: Heringman,Josquin,Mouton and anon,Victoria
ALBUM TITLE: Secret History
WORKS: Sacred music by Josquin, Victoria, Heringman, Mouton and anon
PERFORMER: John Potter, Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich (voices), Jacob Heringman, Lee Santana (vihuelas), Hille Perl (viola da gamba)


The ‘secret’ that John Potter alludes to here is the fact that, although the sacred works and songs of the Renaissance received ‘official’ performances in courts and churches by vocal ensembles, they were also consumed in less formal settings in different arrangements. His method is to team up with the soprano Ariel Abramovich, and with players of the lute and vihuela (a kind of early guitar), to demonstrate that such reduced performances are viable. He takes as his model the arrangements found in publications such as Enriquez de Valderrábano’s 1547 collection Silva de Sirenas, where some of these works appear.

His approach is varied. In Mouton’s Nesciens Mater only the top two parts are sung, while in the Benedictus of the Missa Surge Propera it’s the top and bottom lines. In the Gloria of the Mass and elsewhere Potter artfully switches between parts as he goes along so as to produce an appealing continuous vocal line. The instrumentalists nicely demonstrate that some pieces (O Magnum Mysterium) can be effectively portrayed without voices. Another interesting aspect (not mentioned in the liner notes) is that the notation used by the instrumentalists shows exactly where the fingers should be placed on the frets, and thus reduces the uncertainty about which sharps and flats were added in performance. Hence the relatively plain harmonies of this instrumental version of ‘Josquin’s’ Absalon fili mi (it is probably by Pierre de la Rue) provide an intriguing contrast with the exotic tonal excursions frequently heard in vocal performances. 

Anthony Pryer