The sword & the lilly

15th-century polyphony for Judgement Day
Fount & Origin, James Tomlinson
Inventa INV1008

This CD of choral music from the 15th century is – in the words of the programme note – ‘a meditation on van der Weyden’s The Last Judgement’, a magnificent painting in the ‘doom’ tradition, dominated by a wonderfully winged St Michael. Rather than exploring the theme of the Last Judgement in music, the programme takes us on a tour of the painting in the manner of the Radio 4 “Moving Pictures” series, finding works or movements from works which reference its various visual elements. Thus we open with an episode from Ockeghem’s Requiem before moving on via a number of anonymous motets to the Missa L’Homme armé/Dum sacrum mysterium by Johannes Regis, a Magnificat by Johannes Martini and the Dies Irae from Brumel’s Requiem. The singing is elegantly idiomatic and expressive and perhaps the greatest virtue of the recording is the high percentage of anonymous pieces, works which tend to be overlooked when choirs are selecting repertoire for recordings. I am not a natural admirer of picking and choosing movements from larger works and combining them with a fairly random selection of shorter pieces from throughout Europe, and I found myself wanting the rest of pieces such as the Ockeghem, Regis and Brumel. As a taster for these larger works, I suppose this programme may serve to draw listeners unfamiliar with these pieces into exploring them further, while also offering the parts in a wider context of anonymous smaller works. Ultimately for me, this CD seemed a rather unsatisfying random selection of works, which had at best a tangential connection with one another.

D. James Ross

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