Sunday, January 10, 2010

Obrecht and a Must-Own DVD

I've posted about Jacob Obrecht: Missa de Sancto Donatiano before but I've now had the chance to absorb this treasure, and I can't recommend it enough. It features a full recreation of a 1487 Mass, in great scholarly detail. The performance here - and it is a performance and not a real Mass - is painfully reconstructed in ways that are jaw-droppingly beautiful and fascinating in ways that will surprise you.

The music by Obrecht is way ahead of his time. Sometimes it strikes me as more sophisticated that Josquin and even Victoria - more along the lines of a 15th-century version of Byrd. The interaction between the voices is like nothing else I've heard, and yet inevitable in some way. I immediately went out and dug up some of this man's music for our schola to sing.

I just can't get over the quality of the singing and the blend between these masters. They are singing from a single edition - an early published edition of the Mass setting itself. So they are reading 15th century notation from a single music stand. In the documentary section, the director the schola explains how to read the notation - no barlines and no integrated staff lines either. Everything is in part-book format with notes of different rhythmic values taking up exactly the same space on the score. This presents a remarkable challenge to any modern musician who takes current notational methods for granted. Is there something to say for the old style? The presentation here certainly does make the case. I'm tempted to say that this is polyhpony like you have never heard it.

Yes, it comes with a CD along with the DVD. All for $17. Certainly some huge institution must have subsidized this thing. But it is money well spent.

Read the Amazon reviews to see what you will experience. I don't think I've seen such enthusiastic reviews for a project that seems at first to be of interest only to a small niche. In fact, every musician and certainly every Catholic who cares about liturgy needs to experience this presentation. One reviewer said that he is glad that he lived long enough to see this. I sort of understand what he means here.

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