PACKE Missa Gaudete in Domino & • Ulrike Heider, dir; Schola Gothia • GOTHIC 49259 (64:07 Text and Translation)
& DUNSTABLE (or POWER) Salve regina
Thomas Packe worked in the last decade of the 15th century, but his exact dates areRead more unknown. Two of his three-voice masses are preserved in the Ritson MS (London, BL, Add. MS 5665), but I have never seen his name in a record catalog. This source is exactly contemporary with the Eton Choirbook, but the latter is commonly spoken about as if it were the sole surviving source of the period. Ritson contains mostly carols and other devotional pieces, but that is no reason for overlooking the liturgical works. The Mass is an interesting setting, not to be mistaken for the music of any of Packe’s contemporaries. He has a distinctive voice. What little we know about him is connected with Exeter cathedral, where he apparently spent the 1490s as priest and organist. The cathedral had a longstanding daily Mass of the Blessed Virgin in the Lady chapel, for which he certainly provided this music. The Mass is filled out with the usual chant Propers for a votive Mass of Our Lady, along with a sequence Nativitas Mariae virginis not previously recorded, found in The Hague, Royal Library, 71 A 21 (the rest of the chants are sung from the modern Graduale Triplex). From an earlier era but also found in Ritson, the concluding work is said to be based on a work attributed to either John Dunstable or Lionel Power. Of the two settings recorded by the Hilliard Ensemble in the Reflexe series, it sounds a lot like the one on the Dunstable disc, not at all like the one on the Power disc, yet not identical to the former, which was sung from the Old Hall Manuscript.
This ensemble of four women has already made two recordings in Sweden, but this is the first one I have heard. It was made in Varnhem abbey there. Comparisons with Anonymous 4 are indicated, even to the title of the disc, which is the same as their first CD, “An English Lady Mass.” I recently commented on the proliferation of such small groups of women singing early music, and this one extends the list. Their polyphony is achingly pure, while their chant interpretation is beyond reproach, an unaffected rendition of the modern edition without the kind of fussy interpretation sometimes heard. The sound is clear and airy without noticeable reverberation, seeming to float in space. This is a real contribution to the understanding of the early Tudor period, presented properly with appropriate chants and concluding with a motet that might have been regarded as a classic in Packe’s time, a masterpiece of an earlier generation. I look forward eagerly to the group’s next offering, but meanwhile don’t miss this marvelous disc.