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The Sound and the Fury

[apologies for the problems with some of the videos on the other pages on this site – these will be updated shortly]

Two new albums are out: Ockeghem 2 ORF 3130 (Missae Ancilla Domine & Mi MI) and a three volume set of Firminus Caron FB1207302).  The Caron set is also available on iTunes.  Both include digital scores of Jaap van Bentham’s editions, and the Caron includes a big thankyou to Jaap from all of us. He and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on questions of musica ficta, text declamation and so on (he’s very much into modal purity and the significance of the text, while I’m pretty sure Ockeghem worried a lot more about getting his fugues to come out right, and I’m absolutely positive that as a singer himself  he’d have enjoyed the expressive possibilities of ficta sabotage rather than sticking to the rules).

We’ve just recorded three versions of the Cuius Vis Toni and re-recorded the Prolationem mass, so there was no argument there: they’re all about the ficta, and it was great to have Jaap’s enthusiastic guidance. I’d always thought the Cuius Vis Toni (roughly translated as ‘any mode you fancy’) was among Ockeghem’s curiosities rather than a great piece to sing. In fact, the three version we did (in re, mi and fa-ut were quite revelatory – the piece changed shape and colour, each version having its own very distinctive flavour. I used to dread doing the Prolationem  with the Hilliards as it never really fitted our ranges even when we had extra voices. To do the whole mass with the same four voices, three of them need a range of over two octaves.   As it turned out, we managed it with only the minimum of cheating. Interesting implications there for historical vocal technique.

Mauerbach ceilingWe did two concerts, with a different version of Cuius Vis Toni  in each one. The first one was a live broadcast that started after midnight, after we’d spent most of the day recording.  I just about managed it, but my voice doesn’t really work after midnight so it took me a while to get going. The second one was better, and one of the most wonderfully mad I’ve experienced for a long time. During the Sanctus we suddenly found ourselves competing with a deafening firework display from the fire station down the road. It was decided that since the audience had no choice but to listen to the explosions as well as the music, they should also be able to see the fireworks reflected on the chapel ceiling, and at the end of the Sanctus the lights went out. We sang the Agnus Dei with each of us holding our music in one hand and a large candle in the other. Then after lots of appreciative applause from those still awake Bernhard Trebuch asked us to sing the Kyrie in a different mode by way of an encore. He’d ambushed us with this the night before and after a scramble for scores we’d managed it OK. It didn’t occur to us that he might try it again and this time we had only one score between us, and we forgot to make sure we all knew what mode it was in before we started. Of course, there’s no evidence that Ockeghem’s singers didn’t sing in four modes simultaneously…though if you’d heard our accidental attempt you’d probably think we were perversely trying to make the case for modal purity.  I’m sure the great man would have been amused by our bizarre effort though – which ground to a halt in a fit of the giggles during the Christe. It’s not often you get to do some of the most serious music ever written and feel comfortable collapsing with laughter, but that’s the Sound and the Fury for you…

MauersteineStrange that the S&F only records and never does gigs (apart from the terrifying live broadcasts that go with the recordings) and the Dowland Poject doesn’t make records any more so only does concerts. The really difficult bit with the S&F sessions is the concerts. It’s not just that we’ve usually been recording all day and they always seem to take place either in the middle of the night or sub-zero temperatures (or both). The conceptual differences between recording and performing become hugely magnified. When you record you’re ultimately dependent on the producer (and in this case, the musicologist), and although you can negotiate to a certain extent, you’re not really in the driving seat.  You’re also trying to arrive at a version of the music that will stand repeated listening so there are limits to what you can get up to. When you perform in a concert the whole thing becomes your responsibility – it’s a time for experiment and risk-taking, and it’ll only happen once.  The S&F concerts are a strange kind of hybrid; we’re still somehow doing it for the ‘the project’ and more or less repeating what we’ve done in the recording. I love the seat-of-the-pants aspect of live broadcasting, but the S&F concerts can be a bit unsettling and slightly frightening. I wonder how many people hear them.  It used to be said of the late night News broadcast on BBC Radio 3 that it would be cheaper to ring up any listeners still awake and read it to them down the phone rather than keep the transmitters going, but maybe the Austrians like their early music very late.

This is the complete S&F discography so far:

Gombert 1  ORF 463

Gombert 2  ORF 3006

Ockeghem 1 ORF 3024

Guillaume Faugues  ORF 3025

Obrecht 1 ORF 3048 (2 CDs)

Firminus Caron 1 ORF 3057

Gombert 3 ORF 3077

Pierre de La Rue 1  ORF 3094

Guillaume Faugues 2  ORF 3115 (2 CDs)

Johannes Ockeghem 2  ORF 3130

Firminus Caron: Masses & Chansons  FB 1207302 (3 CDs)

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