Josquin: Miserere mei Deus

Dark green flowers

Funeral Motets & Deplorations
Cappella Amsterdam, Daniel Reuss
Harmonia mundi musique HMM 902620

There seems to have been something of a vogue for commemorative music around the end of the 15th-century, music and verse, which would mark the passing of great artists in both media, and it perhaps signals the establishment of composers and poets as individuals of note and status. It became customary for composers to lament the passing of their teachers, and to usefully list in these ‘deplorations’ their fellow students, providing musicologists with useful musical ‘genealogies’ for composers. Opening with Josquin’s exquisite ‘deploration’ for his teacher Johannes Ockeghem, this is a wonderfully comprehensive programme of music by Josquin associated with death including his extended settings of Planxit autem David and the Miserere, concluding fittingly with Musae Jovis by Nicolas Gombert, lamenting his late teacher, Josquin. Cappella Amsterdam produce a wonderfully pure sound and sing this music expressively and convincingly. I had one or two reservations about their pronunciation – surely the Renaissance pronunciation of the French ‘ois’ syllable as ‘way’ is fairly well established, and simply to sing the texts simply as if they were modern French is to lose something. I have to say that an entire programme of sung funeral music does begin to sound a little ‘samey’ – perhaps a piece or two of instrumental music interspersed would have alleviated the similarity of texture. We could perhaps have managed a little more passion in one or two of the pieces, such as the exceptional setting of Absalon fili mi, which – given the passion of the text and Josquin’s extraordinary musical response to it – receives a rather glib performance here. I notice that this is the first of a projected trilogy of deploration music by great composers of the Renaissance, so we await forthcoming albums.

D. James Ross