With rock stars ditched, this is back to historical music for Potter: a pared back mass, several motets – and vihuelas.

 Label: ECM Records
 Time: 22 Tracks / 69 mins

 Classical singer Potter’s superb last release (Amores Pasados) saw him commission rock artists Tony Banks, John Paul Jones and Sting to write tunes for lyrics from as far back as the fifteenth century.

Here he uses the same musicians: lutenists Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman (who play vihuelas, a precursor to the guitar, but tuned more like a lute); along with vocals by Trio Mediaeval’s Anna Maria Friman, whose soprano is beautifully-matched with his in duets.

This album, though – recorded back in 2011, but not released until now – is firmly set in the early and late renaissance eras.

Secret History is essentially a pared-back mass by Tomás Luis de Victoria, followed by motets by Josquin Desprez. As with the previous release, the lutenists get to feature too. This is mostly in very brief instrumental preludes to the singing, but they reverse the pattern when Potter sings the short chant “Obsecro te,” after which Abramovic and lutenist Lee Santana share an extended Josquin piece with the same name.

A similar thing happens with “Inviolata.” The lutenists’ extra instrumental space and variety help the disc tremendously, renaissance tunes not being created with hooks and choruses. Hille Perl’s viola da gamba on two pieces further helps.

According to the former Hilliard Ensemble tenor’s blog, the ‘secret’ of the title is “because although cannibalising ‘acapella’ polyphony and performing it in this way was typical of the 17th century, the modern early music movement has generally focused on the first pristine incarnation of the music rather than what musicians subsequently did with it (the real history which is too often ignored).”

He also mentions there that he wanted all the players to be jointly credited, so from now on the artists together will be called Alternative History. It’s good to know that there will be more from them, as this team creates a tremendous sound as they re-invent the music for now.

While the sound is impeccable and the performances superb, for the more casual listener there is less musical variety in this release, so a little less interest. Try Amores Pasados first.

Derek Walker