Design by Austin Boyer
Review of De Orto et Josquin
This handsomely bound CD release (also available as a digital download, but here the CD version is the choice) is in turn a companion to a larger opus, a musicological work about the period of Josquin‘s career when he was a singer in the choir of the then-new Sistine Chapel in Rome. That might be enough to put off listeners raised on the stultifying performances of Renaissance choral music issued by academic ensembles in the middle of the 20th century, but such a reaction would be a mistake: the U.S. vocal group Cut Circle (the term refers to a time signature used in Renaissance notation), with the difficult forces of a couple of singers per part, delivers performances under director (and book author) Jesse Rodin that are both tonally confident and musically sensitive. The rousing motif repetitions in Josquin‘s music, which must have seemed virtually unthinkable to his first hearers, receive their full measure of energy in Cut Circle‘s performances, but the singers never obscure the contrapuntal intricacies. The biggest news here is the presence of a good deal of unknown music: not only the unaccountably never-recorded Josquin motet Nardi Maria pistici, but music by Josquin‘s contemporaries in Rome, Gaspar van Weerbeke and the completely neglected Marbrianus de Orto. This is music Josquin would certainly have known, and even for casual Renaissance listeners interested in imagining the music of the Sistine Chapel in its early days it adds clarity to Josquin‘s innovations. Consider the Missa L’homme armé of Orto on CD 2 (tracks 3-7). There was already a tradition of settings of the crusader song L’homme armé by the late 15th century, but this one especially bears a close relationship to Josquin‘s Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales, which closes out the program. Both exploit the possibilities of beginning the song on different degrees of the mode, and it is not clear which work was composed first. Josquin‘s mass is, it is true, more ingenious, but even general listeners will get a grip here on just why that is. Strongly recommended.