Without doubt, Mala Punica is one of the most distinctive ensembles currently working in Trecento and Ars Subtilior music. Indeed, if you like performances of late medieval polyphony which exploit large forces of voices and instruments (here recorder, vielles, harps, gittern, slide trumpet and bells), you will be hard-pressed to find interpretations which are more beautiful, atmospheric and seductive than these.
But are they really representative of how this music could have sounded...?
Leaving aside the alleged "vexata quæstio" of the "English a capella heresy" - against which good concrete evidence for large multi-instrument ensembles + singers in secular polyphony has still not been presented - there are several other major academic issues with this recording. From the opening track, you will be amazed by how complex, virtuosic and on occasion dissonant it seems. Sadly, however, such richness and dissonances often result from improvised/newly composed parts (like the slide trumpet part [based on the tenor] in "Fra duri scogli" [track 1] and the imitative second cantus added to "Un pellegrin uccel" [track 2]), whilst the virtuosity is predominantly created by a ridiculously fast tempo that is decidedly anachronistic - if 14th and 15th-century Italian writers like Johannes Verulus de Anagnia, Peter of Abano and Michaele Savanarola are to be believed, that is (see articles by Richard Sherr, Nancy Siraisi and Werner Kümmel, etc). Such break-neck speeds - undoubtedly one of the hallmarks of the disc - are unconvincing for a second reason, for they reduce to an imprecise blur the complex, precise rhythms of Paolo's madrigals (transcribed in Italian, French and mannered notation, and sometimes containing rhythmic refinements such as shifts between tempus perfectum and imperfectum, as well as the simultaneous use of tempus perfectum prolatio minor and tempus imperfectum prolatio maior). Other precise notational details are equally ignored, such as the proportional relationship in the madrigals between the A section and the respective ritornello (which is usually substantially slower, as in "Era Venus" [track 7]). Finally, the compositional forms are utterly disregarded in some cases, as in the madrigal "Un pellegrin" (track 2 - originally AABB, but here AAABBbb), and the ballata "Amor de' dimmi" (track 3 - originally AbbaA, but now AAAbbaAAbbaAAA+"petite reprise", if you include the added instrumental introduction and interlude).
Don't get me wrong: judged on the performances alone, this is an outstanding disc. Nevertheless, as an overall observation, it is virtually impossible to avoid concluding that they are merely the result of an imaginative, rather than an inquisitive, mind.