Déjà Review: this review was first published in January 2008 and the disc is still available. Brian Wilson passed away in 2021.

Guillaume Dufay (c.1397-1474)
Music for Saint Anthony of Padua
The Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman
rec. 1996, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London
Booklet with notes in English, French and German. 
Texts in Latin with English translation.

By one of those unfortunate coincidences, this recording first appeared almost simultaneously with the Archiv recording of the Mass and Veni creator spiritus (Pomerium/Alexander Blachly, 447 772-2).  Reviewers then found it hard to choose between the two but at its new bargain price this Hyperion recording now enjoys a clear advantage and, in any case, the Archiv CD appears to have been deleted from the general catalogue, though it is available as a high-quality CD-R from ArkivMusic.

Saint Anthony of Padua, not to be confused with Saint Anthony the first hermit, for whose feast Dufay also wrote a Mass (see below), seems to have ranked high in Dufay’s devotions; one of his treasured possessions was a piece of the saint’s belt, so it is hardly surprising that the Missa de S Anthonii de Padua should be one of his best pieces – assuming that the work we have here is indeed that Mass.  Thanks to detective work by David Fallows, whose edition is used for this recording, the attribution to Dufay of a set of anonymous propria in a manuscript from Trent is almost certain.

The normal practice was to set the common, the fixed portions of the Mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei, as Dufay does in his best-known setting, the Mass Se la face ay pale.  The propria or propers, those sections special to the day, are then chanted.  Dufay, however, here sets both the common and the propers for a complete Mass.

The Franciscan St Anthony of Padua (d. 1331) was known as the ‘Hammer of Heretics’ for his missionary work in France, Italy, Sicily and Mauretania.  As a Confessor and Doctor of the Church, the Mass for his day (June 13th) follows with variations the pattern for a Confessor.  Before the Tridentine reforms a number of local variants prevailed.  In most of England, the so-called Sarum Rite was most common, but there were variations in the York, Hereford and other usages.  In other countries, too, local variants existed, mostly swept away after the Council of Trent, except for the Ambrosian Rite at Milan and the Mozarabitic Rite in one chapel of Toledo Cathedral.  Dufay’s setting, therefore, presumably intended for Cambrai, does not correspond exactly with either the Sarum or Tridentine usages.  (For the Tridentine propers for his day, go to the catholic.org website.)

The Introit, In media ecclesiæ – In the midst of the assembly he opened his mouth – and Gradual, Os justi – The mouth of the righteous shall rehearse wisdom – are as per the Tridentine Rite, with a short sequence in praise of Anthony, Anthoni compar inclite, following the Alleluia – Anthony our illustrious companion on the way.  (Compar almost = ‘mate’ or ‘buddy’.)  The Offertory is Veritas mea, as in the Sarum Rite – My truth and my mercy are upon him – and the Communion, Domine, quinque talenta compares the saint to the faithful servant in the parable who increased his talents, instead of the related text Fidelis servus used in the Tridentine and Sarum usages.

What we have here is, thus, the complete Mass for the day, except for the Collect, Epistle, Gospel, Preface and Canon, which would have been chanted.  I suppose it is too much to hope that some day we can be given the complete works, setting the polyphonic sections within the chant, as in Paul McCreesh’s various liturgical reconstructions.  (A Venetian Christmas, 471 333-2, Prætorius’s Christmas Mass439 250-2, or Venetian Vespers, 476 1868.)  With twenty minutes of potential playing time left, this could have been achieved, but it is churlish of me to complain when the performances are so superb – and we are given a bonus in the form of the motet O proles Hispaniæ/O sidus Hispaniæ – O scion of Spain/O star of Spain – intended for Compline on the eve of the feast.

If you sometimes find it difficult to come to terms with earlier medieval music, you’ll probably find yourself on more familiar territory here.  Polyphonic music developed in different ways well after the time of Dufay but if you have already found your way around its later exponents, such as Tallis, Byrd or Palestrina, you shouldn’t have too much trouble relating to Dufay, especially as performed here.

I have already run out of superlatives for the various Gothic Voices reissues on the Hyperion Helios label which I have reviewed recently.  These performances by the Binchois Consort are equally likely to exhaust my vocabulary, especially if their Music for St James comes my way when it is reissued shortly, as I hope it does.  (If not, I shall certainly buy it.)  The Consort is a small group, six in all, two each of discantus, tenor I and tenor II.  One of their number, Andrew Carwood, is the director of another eminent group, the Cardinalls Musicke.

After an initial session in which I listen to the CD once through without making notes, I usually then take up pen and paper and make detailed notes.  In listening to this recording I never went to the second stage, since it was evident from the start that any comments would be repetitious in their praise.  I cannot imagine anyone performing this music better.  The Binchois Consort are consistently more sprightly than their Archiv rivals Pomerium, to the benefit of the music.  I shall probably retain the Archiv version for the sake of its filler, Veni creator spiritus, but it is to the Helios that I shall turn for the Mass.

The recording is equally excellent – as usual with Hyperion, it never intrudes on one’s enjoyment of the music.  I was, however, a little surprised not to find details of the recording venue, since Hyperion are usually scrupulous in this matter.

The booklet is the usual Hyperion model of information, with notes by Andrew Kirkman and full texts with English translations.  Apart from the Helios logo on the front, it is a straight reprint of the original – would that other record companies were as generous with their bargain-price reissues.  The Latin texts are presented without misprint and the translations are accurate – two things which cannot always be taken for granted.

I know that I have only recently nominated the Helios reissue of Music for the Lion-hearted King (CDH55292) as Bargain of the Month but this Dufay reissue is just as deserving.

The booklet advertises the Binchois Consort’s version of Dufay’s undoubtedly authentic Mass for St James the Greater as available on the Helios label, CDH55272, an announcement which seems to be a little premature; I understand from Hyperion that its reappearance is imminent (March 2008).  Further Binchois Consort recordings of the Mass Puisque je vis (CDA67368) and the Mass for St Anthony Abbot (CDA67474) remain at full price.  (See Em Marshall’s favourable review of the latter: “gorgeous works … outstandingly performed.”)  There is also music by Dufay on two excellent Helios reissues of the Gothic Voices which I have reviewed recently: The Castle of Fair Welcome (CDH55274) and The Garden of Zephirus (CDH55289).  If that still does not exhaust your appetite, try another Hyperion full-price Binchois Consort CD, Josquin and his Contemporaries (CDA67183).

I haven’t heard any of the current versions of Dufay’s Mass Se la face ay pale but I note that Alpha are about to reissue in February 2008 their highly-rated version at bargain price (Alpha908).  It’s time that I replaced my elderly and unidiomatic Vox/Bach Guild recording of this work (Hans Gillesberger) and it is to the Alpha version that I shall turn.  There is a good recording of Dufay’s Mass L’homme armé on Naxos 8.553087 (Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerly).

The Wikipedia article on Dufay was reliable when last I looked, but be aware, as always, that it is subject at any time to inaccurate additions – and the section on his Masses omits any reference to the present work.  There are scores of various pieces by Dufay available online but, unfortunately, none which relate to the present works.

Brian Wilson

Mark Chambers, Fergus McLusky (discantus); Edwin Simpson, Matthew Vine (tenor I); Andrew Carwood, Chris Watson (tenor II)

Missa de S Anthonii de Padua (c.1450, ed. David Fallows)
Introit In media ecclesiae 
Gradual Os iusti meditabitur sapientiam 
Alleluia Anthoni compar inclite 
Offertory Veritas mea 
Agnus Dei 
Communion Domine, quinque talenta 
O proles Hispaniæ / O sidus Hispaniæ 

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