A ‘gentle master’ emerges from Josquin’s shadow
Kate Bolton-porciatti basks in the warm glow of The Brabant Ensemble’s Févin Masses and motets
Missa Ave Maria, Missa Salve sancta parens
The Brabant Ensemble/stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68265 79:13 mins
Priest, singer and composer to ‘good king Louis’ XII of France, Antoine de Févin was highly esteemed in his day, as attest the various plaudits to ‘le gentil Févin’ and the wide circulation of his works in the early 1500s. Since the theorist Glareanus dubbed him ‘a happy imitator of Josquin’, Févin has hovered in the shadow of his more illustrious contemporary. This disc, then, is an important contribution to our understanding of the ‘gentle master musician’, bringing to light two of his Masses and a pair of motets. The Missa Ave Maria quotes and ingeniously re-works Josquin’s terse ‘★ail, Mary’ motet into a sumptuously textured tapestry – worthy of a man born in the magnificent town of Arras. Polyphonic lines, dovetailing voices, and strict canons contrast with chordal passages, duets and trios. In the plainchant Mass Salve sancta parens, Févin laces florid melismas around the chant foundations, and symbolically entwines ‘imperfect’ duple time (tempus imperfectum – alluding to mortal life), and ‘perfect’ triple time (tempus perfectum – alluding to Paradise). Similarly, in the joyous motet ‘Ascendens Christus in altum’, he offsets vocal trios with homophonic textures to suggest the Trinity. We’re also treated to two versions of the airy motet Sancta Trinitas, one pumped up with additional parts by Févin’s contemporary, Arnold von Bruck.
This disc continues The Brabant Ensemble’s laudable exploration of the byways of Franco-flemish polyphony. Director Stephen Rice brings perceptive musical insights to these accounts, and also sheds light on Févin’s idiom in the excellent CD booklet. ★is vocal ensemble may be slender but the singing is robust and buoyantly articulated. Boyish upper voices offset velvety tenors and basses, and the relatively close recording perspective produces a sound at once lucid and lustrous.
Hear extracts from this recording and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Music Magazine website at www.classical-music.com
Director Stephen Rice brings perceptive musical insights
Masses of talent: Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble