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Anthonius DIVITIS (c1470 - c153) / Antoine DE FÉVIN (c1470 - 1511/12): "Lux perpetua - Requiem"

Dir: Marcel Pérès

rec: Nov 3 - 6, 2010, Silvanès, Abbaye
Aeon - AECD 1216 (© 2012) (65'55")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
Anthonius DIVITIS / Antoine DE FÉVIN: Requiem (Introitus: Requiem aeternam; Kyrie; Epistola Beati Pauli Apostoli ad Thessalonicenses*; Graduale: Si ambulem; Tractus: Sitivit anima mea; Tractus: Fuerunt mihit lacrimae; Evangelium secundum Johannem*; Offertorium: Domine Ihesu Christe; Prefacio: Vere dignum et justum est; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Communio: Lux aeterna (* plainchant)
anon: Tantum ergo sacramentum

Mathilde Daudy, Florencia Bardavid Hoecker, Marie Madeleine Moureau, Marie Langianni, soprano; Jean-Christophe Candau, Jean Etienne Langianni, alto; Marcel Pérès, Luc Terrieux, tenor; Jérôme Casalonga, Antoine Sicot, bass

The Requiem Mass is an important part of the Roman Catholic liturgy. It took some time, though, before the text of the Requiem was set polyphonically. The first probably complete cycle dates from the second half of the 15th century, and was composed by Johannes Ockeghem. Several parts seem to have been lost, though. The first settings which have been preserved complete are those by Brumel, De la Rue and Prioris. In the early 16th century the composing of Requiem Masses became more common. The setting which is the subject of this disc also dates from that time.

The cover mentions the name of two composers, Anthonius Divitis and Antoine de Févin. That is not because they composed this Requiem together, but because it is impossible to establish with any amount of security who the real composer is. This Requiem has been preserved in five sources. In two of them the name of the composer is omitted, two attribute it to De Févin and in one source Divitis is mentioned as the composer. The latter is the so-called Occo Codex, named after Pompeius Occo, a rich Amsterdam business man who financed the production of this manuscript which contains a number of masses by famous composers of the 15th century. The anonymous motet Tantum ergo which concludes this disc is also taken from this source.

Only a couple of months before Organum the ensemble Doulce Mémoire recorded this same Requiem Mass. The ensemble's director, Denis Raisin Dadre, chose this work as the Mass which may have been performed at the occasion of the funeral of Queen Anne of France, also known as Anne de Bretagne. It is understandable that the sources are confused as to who is the composer of this Requiem. Divitis and De Févin were working in the same environment: Divitis directed the chapel of Queen Anne, whereas De Févin acted as the director of the chapel of her husband, Louis XII. Both chapels participated in the funeral ceremonies for Queen Anne, singing in succession. If this mass was composed by De Févin, he certainly didn't compose it for the Queen's funeral, as he had died two years before. In the booklet of the present recording it is suggested that, if Divitis is the composer, he could have written it in memory of De Févin. But it is admitted that there is no firm evidence in favour of either of them.

The two performances are very different. Doulce Mémoire presents it as part of a sequence of pieces which probably can be connected to the funeral of Queen Anne. Organum sings this work as an independent item, without any context. It has added some liturgical elements, though: the Epistola, the Evangelium and the Prefacio, sung in plainchant. The liturgical unity is a little damaged by the sometimes unnaturally long silences between the sections of the Mass. The singing is also strongly different. Organum has chosen a very low pitch, and as a result the basses are producing a sound which one is used to hear from Russian choirs. Obviously the upper voices are also relatively low. One wonders why Marcel Pérès has opted for female voices for this part as they can easily be sung by male altos. Organum's tempi are generally slower than those of Doulce Mémoire: the Kyrie takes 6'37", compared to 2'53". The Offertorio is another striking example: 9'25" vs 6'50". Doulce Mémoire produces a more 'conventional', sophisticated sound, whereas Organum's singers - especially the lower voices - sound brassy and much rougher. Their singing reminds me of the sounds which I once heard from traditional singers from Corsica. It is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. The slow tempo and the added ornamentation in the plainchant are also something one has to get used to.

Considering the aspiration of achieving a great amount of authenticity, the Italian pronunciation of Latin is rather odd. I also wonder why Marcel Pérès uses ten singers for this five-part Requiem. A reduction of the number of singers would have resulted in a greater transparency which suffers a little from the style of singing anyway.

This Requiem Mass may have been recorded twice within a span of some months, but they don't really compete, as they are fundamentally different. Even if I am not convinced that Organum's performance reflects the way this Requiem was sung at the time it was written, it is highly fascinating to hear it performed this way. I don't want to make a choice; they are both excellent in their very own way. Those who have a special interest in the polyphony of the renaissance will like to have them both.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Organum

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