This is a CD of beautiful, uplifting and essentially very joyous music. Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505-1557) had every reason to celebrate and reflect joy, in his creative life at least! Although much less well known now than during his lifetime, Crecquillon was a major figure of the European Renaissance having worked as maître de la chappelle at the court of Charles V; this was in some ways the premier such position in the sixteenth century. Crecquillon was respected, honored, copied and deferred to throughout his short life as singer, performer, composer and chaplain. It's not too fanciful to hear in the Mass D'ung petit mot a lively and almost outgoing rejoicing born of someone at the height of their powers, full of confidence and a sense of their own achievement (and musical strength), albeit in a modest, rather than nonchalant, way.
These qualities – together with an almost ethereal, insubstantial feel (in the second (see below) Agnus Dei [tr.6], for example) to the harmonies and gentle undulations of melody – are superbly communicated by the 20 or so strong Church of the Advent Choir, Boston, Massachusetts. Listen to the way the third Agnus Dei [tr.7] almost sighs in satisfaction at its end. The singers impart a purposeful and focused sentiment to the music, not a dreamy or mushy one. There is forward momentum throughout. It's considered, thoughtful and reflective movement. Although the Mass is based on a chanson, D'ung petit mot, that has not been identified.
Three Agnus Dei? The first two are to identical texts; the third adds the "dona nobis pacem". This practice allowed composers to demonstrate their skills in the crucial closing part of the mass. In this case Crecquillon directed that the first be sung again after the second, but for six voices. Ho and the Church of the Advent Choir in this case offer us all three in succession – in accordance with contemporary practice.
The same sense of peace and rest, but as qualities which express conviction and sureness, abounds across the other works on this, the second, CD by Ho and the Choir of the Church of the Advent devoted to the music of Crecquillon (the first was reviewed last month). Other pieces, notably the motets, Domine respice and Dirige gressus meos, also have a sense of longing satisfied through a combination of personal effort and "intervention"… again the end of Respice quaesumus has a serenity to it in this performance which is almost physical.
Not that the singing of any of these works is overly colored or inappropriately embellished. If anything, the precision and admirable mixture of restraint and emotion suggest just what, presumably, the producers of this series have hoped for: that others will take up Crecquillon's music and contribute towards the development of a tradition to which these two CDs make such an excellent start. In other words, while there is nothing overtly definitive in the approach of Ho, Wood and Reyes because there is nothing either showy or self-gratifying. The tempi, attention to phrasing and melodic integrity which infuse every bar go a long way towards defining the space in which we can explore this remarkable composer. What's more, the performers all do so without making us feel that we are in some way experimenting. Instead, we are experiencing something special: there is no undue emphasis on Crecquillon's neglect, or on the fact that he's neglected.
The acoustic of the recording is a good one. There is a small but informative booklet with the texts; its author makes some useful speculations about the way Crecquillon worked and emphasises just how much of what we hear here was written to specific requests. This makes the composer's achievement all the more remarkable.
It almost goes without saying that there are no other recordings available of any of these works. Even were that not the case, this is a significant and superbly executed contribution to a repertoire which deserves to be better known. Recommended.
Copyright © 2009, Mark Sealey