Under the direction of its founder, Frederick Jodry, Schola Cantorum of Boston featured Franco-Flemish standouts of the Renaissance at its concert on February 6, given at Church of Saint John the Evangelist on Beacon Hill. On their program was Ockeghem’s Requiem. This setting of the Roman Catholic celebration for the dead stands out among the many masses composed during that era. Certainly, it has become one of the most performed compositions by this early master of polyphonic vocal music, who died 512 years ago.
Along with his words of welcome, director Jodry playfully made a wish, “Happy deathday, Ockeghem.” In Requiem, Medieval roots grow conspicuously and alternately with Renaissance trend-setting ideas. For Ockeghem, and much more so for Josquin and the other younger composers on the program, creating sonic canvases meant making music more readily accessible.
Ten voices, four female and six male, furthered that aim. Establishing a deep level of communication, this Boston ensemble made every part of Requiem a thing of sonic and visceral beauty. Complexities so often attributed to Ockeghem’s style disappeared. In their place arose one magnificent canvas, instinctive, never academic. Schola Cantorum sang their way through this 30-minute voiced “symphony” with unreserved love.
Strings of notes taking off on one syllable of text (called melismas) abound especially in the Tract: Sicut cervus desiderat… (“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my sound after thee, O God.”) Schola made melismas into ethereal tangents. Powerful emoting climaxed in the Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe… (“Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of the dead from punishment in the inferno, and from the infernal lake.”) Wow! What an uninterrupted emotional ride to end this program!
Another Renaissance standout is Josquin. One of his best-known works, The Deploration for Ockeghem, also called Nymphes des bois (Wood Nymphes), laments the death of Josquin’s revered predecessor. Toward the end of his intricately composed chanson, two pure harmonies repeat slowly, over and over, each time descending lower and lower. And like a “hook” in today’s pop music, these very descending harmonies occur all over again. Effortlessly drawing the listener in deeper and deeper, Schola Cantorum plaintively called the names of Josquin along with grieving contemporaries:
Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon, Compère,
and weep great tears from your eyes
you have lost your good father.
Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon (aka Pierre de la Rue), Compère—all standouts—appeared on this outstanding program. Jodry comments, “Antoine Brumel was an international star, working at Notre Dame in Paris, and also at times in Chartres, Geneva, Savoy, and finally succeeding Josquin in Ferrara.” Whether about death or life, the motets of these Franco-Flemish composers breathed new life into Church of Saint John the Evangelist, proving a fine acoustical match.
This is my first—but definitely not last—time hearing Schola Cantorum of Boston. As it turns out, this ensemble is unarguably a standout of Renaissance expression. You do not want to miss out on this Boston treasure.