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Guillaume FAUGUES (fl c1460 - 1475): Masses

[I] "Guillaume Faugues"a
The Sound and the Fury

rec: Sept 28, 2007 (live), Mauerbach, Kartause Mauerbach (Kirche)
ORF - SACD 3025 (© 2008) (72'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & tracklist

[II] "Guillaume Faugues 2"b
The Sound and the Fury

rec: Oct 9, 2009 (live), Mauerbach, Kartause Mauerbach (Kirche)
ORF - CD 3115 (2 CDs) (© 2010) (82'10" )
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & tracklist

Missa Je suis en la mer a 4a; Missa L'homme armé a 5b; Missa Le serviteur a 4a; Missa Vinus vina vinum a 5b

David Erler, alto; John Potter, Klaus Wenk, tenor; Thomas E. Bauerb, Colin Mason, bass

Some years ago Austrian radio ORF started a series of recordings with polyphony from the renaissance on its own label. The ensemble The Sound and the Fury has recorded music by well-known masters like Nicolas Gombert, Pierre de la Rue and Johannes Ockeghem. But they have also paid attention to some forgotten composers of the 15th century. One of them is Guillaume Faugues. As so often there is quite a difference between his reputation in his own time and in modern times. It is very likely nothing of his oeuvre has ever been recorded before.

Not that much is known about Faugues, like where and when he was born and how he was educated in music. Only his presence in Bourges during two stages of his career is documented. He was a chaplain at the Ste Chapelle there and he also was in Bourges in the early 1470s. He was an acquaintance of Johannes Ockeghem, who visited Bourges in 1462. Faugues' repute is expressed in the motet Omnium bonorum plena by Loyset Compère, in which he figures alongside the likes of Ockeghem and Josquin. The theorist Johannes Tinctoris ranked him among those composers whose works "are so redolent with sweetness that … they are to be considered most worthy not only for men and demigods, but even for the immortal gods themselves". He has special praise for his Missa Vinus vina vinum. This is one of the five masses by Fauguet which have been preserved; these are also the only of his works which have survived.

The masses are all based on secular cantus firmi. The Missa Le serviteur takes the chanson Le serviteur hault guerdonné by Guillaume Dufay as its starting point. Faugues took the tenor as cantus firmus, but in the other voices he also quotes from other parts of the chanson. This way this mass represents an early stage in the development of the parody mass. To what extent the Missa Je suis en la mer follows the same procedure is not easy to say as the original chanson which Faugues used as cantus firmus is not known. With the Missa L'homme armé we are on more common ground, as the melody of this anonymous chanson was used by many composers for parody masses. Faugues was one of the first to use it this way. The Missa Vinus vina vinum seems to be based on an anonymous chanson, Datur in convivio vinus vina vinum. All three masses are remarkably long, especially those in the second volume. Notable is the length of the Sanctus in three of them; in the Missa Vinus vina vinum it takes no less than 13 minutes.

The duration of the masses is partly due to the performances. The Sound and the Fury generally choose rather slow tempi. I am not sure wether these are appropriate. In the Missa L'homme armé, for instance, some passages are so emphatically sung that it is rather unnatural. The performers also take care to emphasize those passages in which the chanson is quoted. "Where the melody is repeated in short note values in the altus and tenor at the end of the second Kyrie, in the and and in the Sanctus and Osanna, and the original cantus firmus text somehow underlines the liturgical text, these notes are sung to the original French text in this recording", according to the liner-notes. This is rather odd: why should a secular text be sung in a liturgical work? It is rather strange to hear a voice switch from Latin to French all of a sudden anyway. This practice is even less convincing as the performers haven't made any attempt to pronounce the Latin text in the French way. The Italian pronunciation as practiced here is highly debatable considering that Faugues has probably worked most of his life in France. The way this mass is performed is just too ostentatious.

The performances certainly have their merits, but on balance I am not that enthusiastic. These are recordings of live performances. Sometimes those circumstances can give a performance a special quality, but that is not the case here. There are some irregularities and uncertainties, and these are clearly audible because the microphones have been pretty close to the singers. The church seems to have enough reverberation for this repertoire, but that isn't really taken advantage of. It also results in a very detailed picture: every single line can be heard - which in itself is nice, although probably not really intended by the composer -, but at the cost of the complete picture. Moreover it emphasizes that the voices don't blend that well and that tenor Klaus Wenk regularly reaches the limit of his upper range. I don't know - and the liner-notes don't tell - whether these masses have been transposed, but his part doesn't always sit very comfortably for his voice. This music needs to be sung legato, and in these performances this isn't always as fluent as one would wish.

Even so, it is great that this unknown master is brought to our attention. One can only hope that ensembles are willing to look beyond the famous names of the renaissance. It pays off as these two discs show.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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