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CD Feature/ graindelavoix: "Caput"

img  Tobias

Just how short-lived and perishable fame and fortune are, becomes clearer the more one steps back into history. After all, when compared to today’s celebrities, who is Johannes Ockeghem? A cypher, a faded shell, washed away into the ocean ob oblivion by the tide of time. Yet during his life, which spanned almost ninety years, he was regarded as one of the most dignified men in Europe, a well-endowed landlord, a singer without compare and a composer with overflowing talent and a stupifying body of work. This recording by Björn Schmelzer and the ensemble graindelavoix takes us back to those glory days.

In fact, it leads us to places beyond belief. In an extensive booklet essay, Schmelzer goes into depths to explain the background of the singing technique employed on this record, but the “Missa Caput” is a breathtaking experience with or without academic knowledge: Clusters of voices slowly build up on the horizon, gathering like storm clouds and releasing themselves in releaving showers of heavenly harmony. Some of these pieces flow quietly and solemly, then pick up pace like a black stream, gaing and losing impact in an infinte cosmic game. At the same time, the interaction between the different sonorities (a producer would probably call them “frequencies”) is of a seldomly displayed urgency: Subcutaneous bass lines collide with sky-gazing high-notes and the middle-ground is covered by a plethora of constantly moving impulses. If you consider the fact that this a purely vocal composition, involving not a single instrument and merely nine singers, the freshness and diversity of the sound palette is amazing – each and every piece seems to come in a different colour, a unique mood and follows its own rules. There’s traces of Gregorian chant, but also gaelic and oriental influences, pure and simple passages, as well as flowery ornamentation. But among all of this beauty, possibly the most intense moment is when the solo voice in “Vos Vocatis Me” climbs and descends until you feel you can’t take no more.

But of course you can. “Missa Caput” wants to be heard again and again and it makes no secret of the fact that it still holds many mysteries for those willing to search. At the same time, this is not simply an ethereal or even astral oratory, but an emotionally charged experience. Ockeghem, after all, was known to be “moody, flamboyant and enigmatic”. While all of this, as well as his immense richess has faded over the ages, his work still stands as superb and shining as ever. And no one can take that away from him.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Björn Schmelzer and graindelavoix
Homepage: Glossa Recordings

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