Design by Austin Boyer
Songs Full of Pathos
SONGS FULL OF PATHOS
Cut Circle Engages Brilliantly with the Chansons of Johannes Ockeghem
A singular figure in musical culture during the second half of the fifteenth century, Johannes Ockeghem was one of the leading exponents of the Flemish polyphonic school. Celebrated and praised both in life and after his death, he led an intense existence, both professionally and musically. The various positions he held earned him substantial economic benefits: he was first chaplain at the court of France and treasurer of the cathedral of Saint-Martin of Tours. This recording by the American group Cut Circle tackles Ockeghem’s works through a passionate reading of his complete chansons, a widely disseminated musical genre in the fifteenth century. The anthology opens—it could not have been otherwise—with Nymphes des bois, the famous lament on the death of Ockeghem that another great practitioner of Flemish polyphony, Josquin Desprès, dedicated to his distinguished colleague. The tracks that follow reveal the extraordinary contrapuntal architecture of Ockeghem’s counterpoint—the fruit of a creative impulse that manages to infuse into the songs a deep emotional pathos, characterized at once by musical complexity and a daring typical of the composer’s style.
An Alternation of Moods and Themes
The twenty-four tracks confront varied themes, with melancholy and amorous works alternating with lively songs in a playful mood. The interpretation of the ensemble Cut Circle, directed by Jesse Rodin, involves six singers, who engage beautifully with these chansons. Their enunciation is excellent—something not at all obvious for an anglophone group—as is their vocal approach, which is both linguistically correct and far from any sort of preciousness. The singing is direct, perhaps even rough at times, but certainly close to the spirit of the music. Also outstanding is the choice of acoustic, which opts for the sound of an indoor space without reverberation; this had to be the context in which these pieces were performed. Founded in 2003, Cut Circle is a “rare pearl” in the panorama of American early music groups. This valuable recording confirms the ensemble’s high standard and artistic maturity.