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Blue Heron

Johannes Ockeghem: Complete Songs, Vol. 1 Product Image

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Reviewer: David Fallows

In 1982 Decca Florilegium issued the first-ever recording of Ockeghem’s entire secular music with the Medieval Ensemble of London (10/82). At that point, much of the music had never appeared in a modern edition, so the idea of Ockeghem as a composer of songs was new. Almost 40 years later, with the music long published in several editions, we are

now familiar with the notion of Ockeghem not only as a song composer but as one of the best. Building partly on their success in last year’s Gramophone Awards, at which they took the Early Music prize, Blue Heron are issuing Ockeghem’s complete songs on two CDs, of which this is the first (and word has it that a parallel set is planned by the West Coast group Cut Circle: watch this space).

The signal virtue of Blue Heron’s Ockeghem is that they give the music room to breathe: this has always been rare in performances of 15th-century song and it pays instant dividends. Innumerable unfamiliar details come out of these performances. One only wishes that the articulation of the texts had been as clear as we knew from Margaret Philpot and Rogers Covey-Crump on the 1982 set. But, to compensate, these are performances of absolute clarity, beautifully in tune, beautifully balanced and beautifully recorded. Most of the time they use only solo voices, which obviously contrasts with earlier versions and seems to me uniformly successful; but occasionally they add a harp and in one case (Ockeghem’s O rosa bella duo) they use two vielles.

They field a dozen singers, all of whom are extremely good, though I would be inclined to single out Margot Rood as the one who always adds excitement to her singing – with just a little more vibrato than the others, but no harm in that when the results are so compelling.

The CD appears with copious documentation and excellent new translations of all the texts. A major new step in the enjoyment of 15th-century song.

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