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Fanfare Magazine: 39:1 (09-10/2015) 
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Reviewer: J. F. Weber


The Ockeghem Mass has been recorded at least seven times before, but this is the first disc in eight years. Alejandro Planchart (Fanfare 6:1), Peter Urquhart, Maurice Bourbon, and Hans Grüss (30:2) were the early examples, but among them only Urquhart eschewed the use of instruments. Jeremy Summerly (22:1) and Edward Wickham (24:1) used unaccompanied vocal ensembles, but this new group is the second to render the music one voice to a part, the first being The Sound and the Fury (recorded 2006).

The four voices include a soprano on top. The photo shows the singers reading from a choir book, a practice they learned from their teacher Rebecca Stewart, so it is not surprising that the performance is of exquisite lightness and smoothness, slower in every movement than Summerly’s (which was similarly slower than Wickham’s). Ockeghem’s Ut heremita solus and the Agricola and Busnois pieces, all substantial, are rendered instrumentally, the last punctuated by chimes. The Agricola is unfamiliar to me, but it was included in an all-Agricola disc from the Ferrara Ensemble (14:2) and miscellaneous collections by Sirinu ensemble (19:4) and the Ensemble Flûte Harmonique. The vocal piece usually ascribed to Morton is the earliest song to include the Armed Man tune (it was also included with Wickham’s recording). The notes suggest that the composer is likelier to be Dufay; it is sung twice, in the three-voice version found in the Mellon Chansonnier and the slightly later four-voice version from Ferrara. This new vocal group is outstanding, its name incidentally (nus-mi-do) derived by reversing the syllables of the word Do-mi-nus in the Notre Dame organum Viderunt omnes. The excellent Summerly and Wickham versions are still available, but the latest offering is an excellent choice.

Reviewer: Barry Brenesal


This is an interesting version of Ockeghem’s great Mass, placed within a distinctive framework. Ensemble Nusmido consists of four performers, all of whom sing, three of whom also perform on a number of instruments, including bells, recorder, Renaissance flute, portative and chamber organ. (On some cuts, such as In hydraulis, there’s also a vielle present. Though uncredited in the notes, the group’s Facebook page states that they were looking forward to recording with viellist Miyoko Erhardt Ito, so she’s a likely candidate.)

No vocal ranges are listed; and indeed, one of the group, Milo Machover, is described in his earlier work for Ensemble Non Papa as “tenor, baritone.” Suffice to say that the only female performer, Marijke Meerwijk, seems very much like a soprano, and that the tonal color of the three men lies high, with whomever takes on the role of bass sounding much like a basso cantate. It gives their performance of Il sera par vous/L’homme armé a very light texture, propelled forward by clarity, rhythmic precision, and well defined enunciation in all parts.

Much the same can be said of their Missa L’homme armé, though here, some listeners may take exception to the absence of a spread of discrete registers among the four voices. Regardless, the ensemble is careful in its phrasing, and makes much in their liner notes of singing from original notation to escape modern bar lines and chordal concepts.

Numerous recordings of the Mass have attempted to recreate some sense of the original liturgical venue. Ensemble Nusmido, however, interpolates orchestral arrangements of two secular vocal works: Agricola’s Cecus non iudicat de coloribus between the Gloria and Credo of the Mass, and In hydraulis between the Credo and Sanctus. It’s a subtle decision, based on both the constructivist style of pieces that blend well with the Mass, and the complex intellectual games Busnois and Ockeghem deploy. The choice of instruments the musicians use again emphasizes lighter textures—to somewhat startling but good effect in In hydraulis, where bells are given the tenor line. The fanciful recorder divisions that separate the first and second statements of Il sera par vous/L’homme armé are also a nice touch.

The instrumentals are technically expert, as are the vocals, a few very brief moments of shaky breath support at the ends of lengthy phrases to one side. Engineering is clear, close, and with just enough resonance to make the voices sound. Balance between voices and instruments is solid. There’s one minor issue that should have been fixed before release: a sudden bump to the volume at 4:38 in the Credo. It’s not too great, though disconcerting, and depending upon your settings, you may need to lower the volume a notch or two to get back to your comfort zone.

Recommended, with hopes we’ll hear more from Ensemble Nusmido.


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