, January 2009
On Naxos the soaring opening Ave Maria, gloriously sung, immediately sets the seal on the inspirational power of Ockeghem’s music. It is followed by the plainchant, Alma redemptoris Mater, and they its polyphonic setting, simple and flowing and harmonically rich. The robust ballad, L’Homme armé, follows (‘The armed man must be feared’), sounding vigorously jolly, like a carol. It must have been hugely popular in its day since so many composers used it as a basis for a Mass. While the polyphony in the Gloria and Credo moves onward inventively, the work’s dramatic and emotional peak is readily found in the extended Sanctus (by far the longest section) and resolved in the sublime melancholy of the Agnus Dei. In short, this is a work of striking individuality and beauty, and it is sung superbly here, and marvelously paced. Josquin’s setting of sixteen verses from Psalm 119, Memor esto verbi tui, with its expressively fertile imitative devices, makes an eloquent postlude, and the recording, made in the Chapel of Herford College, Oxford, could hardly be bettered. It dates from February 1997, thus aptly celebrating the 500th anniversary of Ockeghem’s death.