Guillaume Du Fay: The Tenor Masses (Les messes à teneur)

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What did it mean for Guillaume Du Fay (ca. 1397-1474), chameleon-like expert in every musical genre of his day, to compose four settings of the Mass Ordinary toward the end of his life? Looking back from the vantage point of the next generation, when the polyphonic mass reigned supreme, it might be tempting to interpret these works as a self-conscious summa of Du Fays career an achievement akin to Haydns London Symphonies or Beethovens late string quartets. On a purely musical level these comparisons are apt. Each mass stakes out unique musical terrain; they are often strikingly experimental; and the entire set is shimmeringly beautiful from beginning to end, revealing a composer at the height of his powers.

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The ensemble Cut Circle – already famous for their earlier double-disc set of Josquin and De Orto, also for Musique en Wallonie – comprises just eight singers, with two women on the top voice. Dufay would have had men on top, but Carolann Buff and Mary Gerbi are so good that nobody will regret their contribution. These are all top-rate singers with pure and excellently focused voices: every one of them appears here as a soloist in one of the duet sections, and the intonation and ensemble are beyond reproach.

There are many other recordings of all these works, but surely all serious collectors will want this issue of all four works, beautifully sung, beautifully recorded, beautifully presented and always exhilarating. (Gramophone, July 2016)

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