Composers: Add
Performers: Janequin, Ockeghem, Mouton, Caietain, Certon
Catalogue Number: Mirare MIR446

It’s rare to get a concept disc of 16th-century repertoire. It’s even rarer to get one as elegantly conceived and executed as this. Au long de la Loire sees Ensemble Jacques Moderne and director Joel Suhubiette take a musical trip down the Loire from Le Puy to Nantes, following in the footsteps of composers including Janequin (employed at Angers), Ockeghem (Tours) and Guillaume Faugues (Bourges). A mixture of sacred and secular, including chansons, drinking songs, odes and motets, the program is shaped not only geographically but also as a sort of liturgy. As we travel along the river the journey is punctuated with movements of the Mass – Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus – to create a ritual celebration.

Mostly dating from the early years of the 16th century, this French repertoire has a wonderful pungency and harmonic crunch to it, further amplified here by the use of authentic vowels which add a wonderful vividness and forward projecting to the fine-blended tone of this crack ensemble. They lend a rustic vigour to Pierre Certon’s insistent drinking song Vignon, vignette, its rhythms glugging evocatively, but also a welcome brightness and sheen to Janequin’s darker, chant-inspired Estans assis aux rives aquatiques.

The polyphony is beautifully handled by the ensemble’s small forces (just 11 singers) – lithe and lean without ever feeling pinched, and with a lovely sense of movement to it. Mouton’s exquisite Nesciens mater has a veiled softness to its lines that’s quite different to the more focused delivery of Ockeghem’s tightly-wrought Intemerata Dei Mater, and the group reinvents itself yet again for the oldest work included here – the Agnus Dei from Guillaume Faugues’ Missa Je Suis En La Mer, with its gutsy rusticity and sharper modal edges. Dive into this magnificently rich disc, and it may be a while before you surface.