It’s been an epic journey, but one that is drawing to a close. Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars’ traversal of Josquin’s Masses has now hit some conundrums. The Missa Mater Patris (based on a motet by Brumel) exhibits a stark simplicity that led scholars to believe it was an early work, but now its simplicity is thought to be more a display of masterly technical refinement rather than an expression of emerging talent. More quizzical still is the Missa Da Pacem, thought in the 19th century to be the perfect distillation of the master’s art, yet now believed to be by the little-known Flemish composer, Noel Bauldeweyn.
Whether Missa Mater Patris is early or late, Phillips and his singers communicate Josquin’s passionate response to Brumel with luxurious tone and beautifully shaped melodic arcs, particularly in the third Agnus Dei, which is like a flower opening in an arid landscape. By contrast, a jaunty Hosanna also reveals a lightness of touch.
Missa Da Pacem is a far more elaborate polyphonic edifice, with some inspired writing which has led Phillips to believe that the Et incarnatus and the third Agnus may indeed be by Josquin. While these works will cause continuing scholarly speculation, one thing is certain – that Phillips and his singers are ardent advocates. Once again, the clear but comforting acoustic of Merton College, Oxford aids their endeavour. Whoever the composer, this music is certainly worth listening to.