Once you become sensitive to early choral music, there follows the sensation that there may be—perhaps—just too damn much beautiful music. The composers were showing off for God. The modern performers are showing off for each other and a very compact, competitive, often academic niche marketplace. It can be overwhelming. How cool is it that one of the first people confident enough to draw a mustache on a masterpiece is himself an undisputed master? During most of the 1990s, tenor John Potter helped elevate the Hilliard Ensemble to something like superstardom, or whatever antique church music’s upper-echelon is called.
Here, Potter sings mostly overlooked secular gems by the 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay, a man most often remembered for his masses. Potter’s vocals provide bullets for composer and digital manipulator Ambrose Field. Field’s echoes and delays, with sampled, nondescript signs of life from streets and interiors and choir music have the uncanny effect of modernizing Dufay’s motets and formes fixes. Either by electronic effect or the singer’s restraint, Potter’s breathtaking voice is kept at a slight remove and is somehow easier to take in. If you can imagine the planet as an instrument, this is the music it might make.