Missa Gross senen | Missa L'ardant desir
Cut Circle


musiwall.uliege.be | prestomusic.com | cutcircle.org | medieval.org
Musique en Wallonie 2097

Recording: June 2019, California
Release: October, 22, 2021

Missa Gross senen (35:18)

1. Kyrie  [5:09]

2. Gloria  [7:04]

3. Credo  [9:29]

4. Sanctus  [9:00]

5. Agnus dei  [4:36]

Missa L'ardant desir  (34:20)

6 .Kyrie  [3:32]

7. Gloria  [7:46]

8. Credo  [8:56]

9. Sanctus  [8:17]

10. Agnus dei  [5:49]

Cut Circle

Sonja DuToit Tengblad – superius
Jonas Budris – altus
Bradford Gleim – ténor
Paul Max Tipton – basse

Jesse Rodin – direction artistique

Emily Zazulia – collaboratrice scientifique

Qu’est-ce qui rend une œuvre musicale difficile ? Cet album présente deux fascinantes messes polyphoniques du XVe siècle, techniquement ambitieuses, historiquement importantes et inédites au disque ; elles sont ici interprétées par un ensemble fort d’une nouvelle approche conçue pour honorer la variété et l’inlassable intensité de la musique. Les deux œuvres se distinguent par leur complexité notationnelle. Elles sont également exceptionnelles par l’habileté qu’elles requièrent des interprètes : on y trouve des rythmes époustouflants, des contrepoints complexes et de longues phrases mélodiques. Plutôt que d’atténuer ces défis avec un grand ensemble et une acoustique généreuse, cet enregistrement les renforce : une voix par partie, des tempi énergiques, une captation proche et un minimum de réverbération. Cette approche ne pardonne aucun écart, mais avec des voyelles claires et une technique vocale flexible, elle présente l’avantage de permettre à la musique d’advenir avec une authenticité et une clarté peu communes.

What makes a piece of music difficult? This album introduces a pair of riveting, technically ambitious, historically important, and never-before-recorded polyphonic masses of the fifteenth century, performed by an ensemble that has developed a new approach designed to honor the music’s variety and unflagging intensity. Both works stand out for their notational complexity. They are also exceptional for the skill they demand of the performers: we find hair-raising rhythms, intricate counterpoint, and long melodic phrases. Rather than mitigate these challenges with a large ensemble and a generous acoustic, this recording enhances them: the performances are one-on-a-part, featuring energetic tempi, close miking, and minimal reverberation. This approach is unforgiving—but together with bright vowels and a flexible vocal technique, it has the benefit of allowing the music to come across with uncommon directness and clarity.



medieval.org Remarks

27 October 2021
Todd M. McComb


And a new album of anonymous masses by Cut Circle & Jesse Rodin presents some fascinating (but previously unknown) repertory, while taking steps forward in performance practice. To the latter point, these are outstanding renditions of these difficult — the album's theme — mass cycles: Not only did they involve extensive reconstruction from sources & correction of errors, but puzzling through the performance instructions themselves, as well as the physical complexities of rhythm & extended breath....

Cut Circle also remarks on their one-to-a-part style, closely mic'd for a strong vocal presence (& articulation), obviously paralleling presentation styles developed by The Sound and the Fury & Beauty Farm in this repertory, and geared toward hearing the music intimately within the circle of musicians themselves (rather than via the haze of cathedral reflections...), but Cut Circle is especially clear & precise too. (It can also be very clear that a woman is participating, pace historical norms... & contra some other recent groups where gender isn't as clear to the ear. I should note further that, while already involving some impressive interpretive solutions, the first albums from Cut Circle did still involve part doubling....) Or maybe that clarity has something to do with the "high res" recording available (although I should note, specifically, that I'm not contrasting it with other versions...).

Besides being complicated, I'm less sure that the music is especially appealing, but it's still an intriguing era. In particular, although he isn't noted as a possible attribution, these masses seem to parallel some of the "constructivist" ideas of Busnoys — & I should note also that there isn't really a "great" Busnois album to this point, the Cantica Symphonia release being another based on similar technical puzzles along with hypothetical attribution... and thus, very much in parallel with this project from Rodin et al., although with a distinctly different performance style around grandeur & instrumental support....

So, in some sense, Messes anonymes addresses the confusing Busnoys legacy, but also recalls earlier 15th century complexities in Italy, especially around the Papal Chapel (e.g. pace Zacara), suggesting almost a mid-15th century version of "academic music" — & as the suggestion implies, also lacks some affective coherence at times around its technical exposition. So, what of this subject of difficulty? I'm not aware of more from the Berkeley conference referenced in the notes, and am probably being redundant (but not sure of it...), but I'm definitely inclined to note two different sorts of difficulty, namely that around the puzzles (which, once resolved, presumably bring a feeling of satisfied completion) & that around the physical challenges of singing (which are never really "resolved," but rather accommodated — with one's ability to do so, perhaps, even declining with age, not increasing with experience...).

And then it's worth noting that Ockeghem (among others) took this orientation on puzzles, presumably only entertaining to the singers themselves, and turned it toward more direct expressivity.... (Should I even raise the specter of Protestantism as already driving a sort of "musical clarity" by the 1470s?) Pace the "irrational" quality of Ockeghem's music, though, these anonymous cycles were only reconstructed based on the (presumptive) rigor of their treatments: In that sense, they almost seem to prefigure Obrecht, yet the latter (famously) comes off completely differently in sound than (as seemingly formulaic...) on the page. (One doesn't find e.g. Dufay — or Regis — the melodist appearing here either, but rather a "technical" sort of intensification applied to preexisting material.)

Anyway, I can't escape the impression that these cycles were intended to be (technically) impressive for other musicians, and they definitely add to the picture of this period. But what we really need is a few dozen "other" masses recorded with this kind of mastery too! (Via this & other recent releases it's also becoming harder for future singing groups to claim that the music is just too difficult to render directly....) But what I'm also hearing here, more specifically, is a context for the judicious use of technical elements by the ensuing "traditional masters."