Requiem. Johannes OCKEGHEM · Pierre de LA RUE — Diabolus in Musica


Bayard 308 475.2

Les deux premiers Requiem polyphoniques de notre histoire, deux œuvres éblouissantes aux sonorités graves et profondes magnifiées par les voix d’homme de Diabolus in Musica.

Ces deux Requiem de Johannes Ockeghem (+ 1497) et Pierre de La Rue (1518) développent des sonorités profondes grâce à une utilisation stupéfiante et inédite des registres graves, et des audaces musicales peu communes (ambitus, jeux rythmiques, contrastes saisissants, expressionnismes inhabituels...). Les deux grands musiciens y font preuve d’une maîtrise et d’une virtuosité étonnantes, toujours au service de l’émotion.

En cette aube de la Renaissance, la sensibilité religieuse se modifie et l’“ars moriendi” (art de bien mourir) prend une place fondamentale dans la dévotion et ses manifestations artistiques les plus spectaculaires. Les messes pour les défunts, jusqu’alors traditionnellement chantées de façon sobre et retenue en plain-chant, sont désormais mises en polyphonie, comme toutes les autres messes.


[22.8.2018] Remarks
18 August 2018
Todd M. McComb


When I first heard that Diabolus in Music was doing a Requiem program devoted to Ockeghem & La Rue, of course I wanted to hear what they had done with these pieces, but I also wasn't sure. After all, these are "war horses" in some sense, at least relative to repertory of this era, this being the 18th complete recording of the Ockeghem cycle & 12th of the La Rue.

I also felt as though the Ockeghem cycle is fairly well "plumbed," so to speak, and indeed I don't think that Antoine Guerber & company show anything new about the piece, but they do produce an outstanding performance, and that's always welcome. I was even surprised that they incorporated some cadential ornaments, perhaps as a nod to Ensemble Organum, but as stated in the comments on my personal list, it works well.

My misgivings on the La Rue arose from the notion of pitch & how the piece has typically been transposed to fit into a smaller overall range: Extreme Singing by the obscure Vox Ensemble was the first to perform it at pitch, and I found the result compelling. (Indeed, the 11th recording of the piece, that by Cappella Pratensis, appeared — together with the 17th recording of the Ockeghem! — shortly afterward, and despite its strengths, I wasn't really able to appreciate the transposed performance.) But Diabolus in Musica adopt this approach as well, so perhaps it is or will be generally accepted... it sounds correct to me.

(Perhaps I should also note, somewhat indulgently, that they do not address my suggestion from a couple of decades ago that the "lost" Dufay Requiem is actually embedded in the beginning of Ockeghem's cycle.... Perhaps such a suggestion is simply unanswerable, or was disproven somewhere I didn't notice: As my center of gravity has shifted to more contemporary activities, I don't notice the non-recording literature to the degree that I once did....) Altogether then, as I remark in the other comments, this isn't a groundbreaking album, but it's quite welcome nonetheless. Now I suppose I should wonder (or worry) why the Bayard Musique label isn't more widely distributed....


Requiem - Ockeghem / La Rue
Diabolus in Musica - Antoine Guerber
Bayard Musique 308 475.2

This is not a groundbreaking album, but it's a very enjoyable interpretation of two long-time favorites: I can't say as I've ever fetishized the Requiem genre the way that some may have, but there's no arguing with the quality of this music. Ockeghem's reputation remains unchallenged today, and the Requiem is one of his most austere & enduring works. The transition from an earlier style to more elaborate counterpoint of the period also seems to mark something of the medieval twilight.... La Rue has been the most generally compelling composer of the next generation for me, and his Requiem is a virtuoso tour-de-force of low lows & high highs, not to mention the contrapuntal intricacy that La Rue developed to a level of subtlety like no one else....

The two performances, although by the same ensemble from the same sessions, emerge from somewhat different histories: The Ockeghem Requiem entry from Ensemble Organum was one of the oldest on my list, and no one had really moved the needle for me since then, so to speak. However, Diabolus in Musica simply bring a new level of mastery to this music, based on their now extensive experience not only with earlier medieval music but e.g. with their earlier Ockeghem-themed program. They even retain some "trembling" cadential ornaments, presumably inspired in part by Organum, which are performed to splendid effect. The singing is strong, and this is a highly compelling performance of music that has received many quality performances. There's a "finish" & satisfaction here that remain rare in interpretations of this repertory.

For the La Rue, the most important precedent is the earlier Extreme Singing (released in 2011 — I was surprised to realize that it's been so long!) album that was the first to sing his Requiem at written pitch, rather than transpose it into a narrower range. Diabolus in Music also take up this challenge, and although details of the low parts can be a little murky at times, generally pull it off with a little more sophistication than the sometimes stiff Vox Ensemble (who have nonetheless secured themselves a place in this performance history). It's great to see performing at pitch taken up by a prominent European ensemble, and as I've said before, it transforms the piece into something even more striking. In this case, Diabolus in Music actually take every movement (especially Sanctus) more slowly than did Vox (or indeed the rather punchy Ensemble Clément Janequin performance I had preferred prior to the availability of these more contemporary approaches), and so invoke a more ceremonial character. I do think that the slowness can be overdone, though (and these impressions of grandeur are hard to balance). So I would say that this cycle can still be performed better, but this is a valuable step toward continually improving command of the piece....

Together, the two cycles & interpretations make for a very recommendable album. And they seem a natural pairing.

(Note further that I have duplicated this entry under both Ockeghem & La Rue headings, for obvious reasons. I would prefer not to duplicate albums on these lists, but felt no choice in this case, given the stature of each Requiem.)

To renaissance sacred list.

Todd M. McComb