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Caron, Stokem & Tinctoris: Sacred music

[I] "Beatissima Beatrix: Works by Tinctoris & Stokem"
Voces Aequales

rec: Jan 2008, Budapest, Castle Museum (Gothic Chapel)
Hungaroton - HCD 32583 (© 2008) (75'19")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/H - lyrics; translations: E/H
Cover & tracklist

anon: Missa L'homme armé VI (Sanctus - extr)a; Johannes DE STOKEM (c1445-1487): Ave maris stella a 2a; Gloria de Beata Virgine a 4; Johannes TINCTORIS (c1435-1511): Beatissima Beatrix; Fecit potentiam a 2; Lamentationes Jeremiae a 4; Missa L'homme armé a 4; O virgo miserere mei a 3; Virgo Dei throno digna a 3

Péter Bárányi, alto; Zoltán Gavodi, Csaba Gyulai, tenor; András Koncz, baritone; Zoltán Mizsei, baritone, organa; András Demjén, bass

[II] Firminus CARON (c1440 - c1475): "Firminus Caron 1"
The Sound and the Fury

rec: Nov 14, 2008 (live), Mauerbach, Kartause Mauerbach (Kirche)
ORF - SACD 3087 (© 2009) (72'16")
Liner-notes: E/D - lyrics; translations: E/D
Cover & tracklist

Missa Accueilly m'a la belle a 4; Missa L'homme armé a 4

David Erler, alto; Klaus Wenk, John Potter, Christian Wegmann, tenor; Joachim Höchtbauer, Richard Wistreich, bass

The three composers which are represented on these two discs were contemporaries and lived in the second half of the 15th century. Two of them, Firminus Caron and Johannes Tinctoris, also appear, alongside more famous masters like Dufay, Ockeghem and Josquin, in the motet Omnium bonorum plena by Loyset Compère.

Tinctoris is the best-known of these three. It is not that his music is frequently performed; he is first and foremost known as a theorist. He was born in the southern Netherlands, and therefore a product of the Franco-Flemish school which dominated European religious music for nearly two centuries. In the 1460s he was active in Orléans, and in the early 1470s he moved to Naples, where he remained for two decades. Here the largest part of his writings and compositional output were created. He entered the service of King Ferdinand I of Aragon, also known as Don Ferrante, and the music teacher of his daughter Beatrice. She married King Matthias of Hungary in 1476 in Buda and was crowned queen. She always kept in touch with Tinctoris, and he possibly visited the queen - widow since 1490 - in 1493. He also dedicated several writings and compositions to her. One of them is the short motet Beatissima Beatrix which opens the disc of the ensemble Voces Aequales: "Happiest Beatrix, prudent, lover of virtues, all of us whom you love, make us forever happy!" O virgo miserere mei and Virgo Dei throno digna are from the Mellon Chansonnier which Tinctoris put together for the wedding of King Matthias and Beatrice.

The largest piece on the programme is the Missa L'homme armé. It is one of the earliest specimen of parody masses which took the popular chanson L'homme armé as their starting point. The upper voice of the chanson is quite often recognizable in the mass. It is also notable that the Kyrie and then Sanctus are troped. The Lamentatio Jeremiae is the only part of the Lamentations Tinctoris composed. It is considered a late work.

Tinctoris wrote 12 treatises which made him one of the most influential writers on music of his time. He dedicated one of his treatises to Johannes de Stokem, another representative of the Franco-Flemish school. He started his career as a choirboy in Liège. In 1481 he entered the service of King Matthias of Hungary as magister capellae. He raised the level of Matthias' chapel to such an extent that it was considered superior to the papal chapel. In 1486 Stokem left Hungary to join that chapel; he remained there until 1487. Only two sacred works by Stokem are known, both recorded by Voces Aequales. His Gloria de Beata Virgine is part of a mass which has not survived. Here again we find added tropes, in this case in praise of the Virgin Mary. Ave maris stella is a duet, in whch the lower part consists of the Gregorian hymn, whereas the upper part - probably intended for an instrument, and here played at the organ - creates the counterpoint, with many metric changes.

The disc ends with an extract from one of six anonymous masses on L'homme armé which are part of a Neapolitan manuscript. This codex was a wedding gift for Matthias and Beatrice, and that makes it an appropriate addition to this disc which was produced at the occasion of the commemorations of King Matthias' coronation in 1458 and the death of Queen Beatrice in 1508. Voces Aequales delivers fine performances which show the chosen pieces at their full glory. The recording was made in the Gothic crypt of the former castle chapel in Budapest, today the seat of the Budapest History Museum. The acoustic has a kind of intimacy which could well reflect the circumstances of the first performances of this repertoire, without losing depth and spatiality. Only now and then the alto has some problems with the top notes. Because of the curiosity of the repertoire this is an important production which enhances our knowledge of the dissemination of the music of the Franco-Flemish school.

Tinctoris knew and highly appreciated Firminus Caron, naming him alongside Ockeghem, Busnoys and Régis as "the most outstanding of all composers I have heard". The dates of his birth and death are unknown, but it is known that he was French. It is suggested that he was in touch with Dufay, who had a strong influence on Caron's oeuvre. The largest part of his output consists of chansons; his sacred legacy is confined to five parody masses, two of which have been recorded by The Sound and the Fury. As this disc has the reference "1" we may expect the other masses to be recorded as well. One of them is again based on the chanson L'homme armé. Unlike many other composers Caron doesn't care very much about quoting the chanson's melody litterally; most quotations are fragmentary, and sometimes replaced by original material. The Missa Accueilly m'a la belle is based on one of Caron's own chansons. Here Caron also follows his own path, using material from both the upper voice and the tenor as cantus firmus.

I was quite critical about the performances of masses by Faugues, and my view on this disc isn't that much different. The legato isn't always as fluent as one would wish. Because this is a live recording there are some technical deficiencies. My main problem is again the recording, though. The microphones have been far too close to the singers. There is too little ensemble and too much focus on the individual voices. This music requires more space and reverberation than in this recording. The idea of recording Caron's music can't be appreciated enough, but the actual result leaves something to be desired.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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