Design by Austin Boyer
The Four Tenor Masses
All the tenor masses of Guillaume Dufay—the masses in which a “foreign melody” is the pre-existent axis of the composition—in a two-CD set: this is a great idea, especially for the meaningful addition, for two of the masses, of recordings of the preexisting material. We are particularly pleased by the inclusion of the song Se la face ay pale, which until now was available only on a long-out-of-print CD by the ensemble Chiaroscuro, but in an interpretation that is barely digestible owing to problems of intonation. In the case of the Missa Ave regina celorum, not only has Cut Circle included the Gregorian antiphon that underpins the mass, but also the idiosyncratic motet on this chant by Dufay (featuring a personally meaningful textual insertion). The only question is why the listener has to do without the models for the other two masses in this collection.
The interpretation is very pleasing: Jesse Rodin has gathered a group of outstanding singers who are obviously very experienced with this kind of music. In the treble range women can be heard, which is not historical but very appealing. The ensemble offers a sonically beautiful and sonorous as well as transparent and structurally clear realization. It is true that the cantus firmi, which is what this collection is all about, cannot be heard as clearly here as in the recent vocal-instrumental interpretation of Se la face by Cantica Symphonia (Glossa)—but despite the interesting sonic results, the extent to which such an instrumentation is historical remains questionable.
One point of criticism should be added: If you want to find out more about the background of the music from the text in the booklet, you should be able to speak English well. The German translation is technically so flawed that what the English-speaking author meant often cannot be understood at all. It’s a shame that such a mishap can occur with a production as careful as this.