Ockeghem: Missa l’homme armé

Ensemble Nusmmido
Rondeau Productions ROP6106
+Agricola: Cecus non iudicat de coloribus*
Busnoys: In hydraulis*
Morton: Il sera pour vous – L’homme armé
Ockeghem: Ut heremita salus*

Ensemble Nusmido is a group of four young musicians ‘specialising in the performance of medieval and renaissance music’; as well as singers, they are also accomplished instrumentalists. They bring their considerable talents here to some exceptionally complex 15th-century music, interspersing an all-vocal performance of Ockeghem’s magnificent L’homme Armé  mass with all-instrumental performances of pieces by Ockeghem and his contemporaries Busnois and Agricola.

One of the most satisfying features of the mass (and indeed of much of the instrumental music) is its resourceful use of the cantus firmus, both as a melodic basis for counterpoint and also as the essential isorhythmic underpinning of extended movements such as the Gloria or Credo.

In these perfomances, the overall sound is exceptionally smooth and luscious, but often at the expense of words (in the mass) and rhythmic characterisation (in the motets), so that especially in the longer movements, the structure is less evident and the music sometimes loses its direction. The cantus firmus  in the magnificent instrumental In Hydraulis  repeats its three notes at three different pitches (as in Josquin’s Hercules Dux Ferrariæ  mass, for example), but the use of the bell here, because of its complex overtones, rather confuses this, to my ears.

No caveats about the actual L’homme armé  chansons which conclude this disc, however- these are beautifully done, both vocally and instrumentally.

The sleeve notes give interesting slants on the music from each of the performers – one would perhaps have liked a little more detail about the actual pieces, particularly their structure, to aid one’s aural navigation.

Alastair Harper