Notes and Editorial Reviews
Stratton Bull, dir; Cappella Pratensis
CHALLENGE CC 72541 (SACD: 57:15
Text and Translation)
The two earliest surviving polyphonic settings of the Mass for the Dead have not been neglected on records since the mid 1960s. I count 11 versions of the Ockeghem and nine of La Rue’s, but I think there are more. The more recent half of each list can be found online. Yet this is the first
coupling of this logical pair. Only three of Ockeghem’s five movements are familiar: introit, Kyrie, and offertory. The other two movements, the gradual Si ambulem and the tract Sicut cervus, were part of the medieval funeral Mass and have been restored as options in the 1974/79
. La Rue sets the same three familiar movements and the tract, as well as the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and communion. Given the fragmentary nature of Ockeghem’s movements, the notes ask, “Was his Requiem incompletely composed or incompletely transmitted [in the single source]?” In one previous version, Marcel Pérès filled it out (unwisely, I thought) with a poorly fitting Sanctus and communion as well as a chant Agnus Dei and responsory. René Clemencic and Paul Hillier added all except the responsory in chant. Bo Holten made a creditable version without additional movements that ranked close to the winners.
I have always favored the Hilliard Ensemble’s version of the Ockeghem (
11:4), now on Virgin, with Edward Wickham a strong alternative. Wickham’s version of the La Rue setting (30:1), suitably coupled with the contemporary setting of Brumel, is outstanding, followed by the older Clément Janequin Ensemble. Cappella Pratensis, however, has a special claim to attention. Continuing the approach of its founder, Rebecca Stewart, the group of eight men including their
primus inter pares
, Stratton Bull, stands around a large choir book bearing the music in its original format. It’s reminiscent of that miniature painting of Ockeghem in his chapel; a similar miniature showing the chapel of Philip the Good of Burgundy was reproduced on Bruno Turner’s Ockeghem Requiem. Their previous release of an Obrecht Mass (33:4) included a DVD of the complete Mass, making one of the absolutely essential discs of Renaissance sacred music. The Requiem of La Rue raises the question of pitch level in the manuscript source. While other performances have been sung as written, this group has transposed some movements to bring them closer in range. Purists may find fault with this.
This new version of the Ockeghem ranks with the two preferred versions, each of which has a worthy coupling. This version of La Rue competes very well with Wickham and its fine coupling. Collectors who are at all interested will not be satisfied with one disc, but Cappella Pratensis must be counted among the best. If you know their recent Obrecht Mass, you will not pass up this new disc.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
Works on This Recording
Missa pro defunctis by Pierre de La Rue
Missa pro defunctis by Johannes Ockeghem
Written: 15th Century; Flanders, Belgium
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