on 1 October 2007
Notre-Dame was at the heart of the Western 12th century cultural explosion - and this CD attempts to capture something of that dynamic, Gothic-cathedral-building splendour.
Starting with a simple, solo-voiced (monophonic), quite beautiful hymn to the Blessed Flesh of the Virgin Mary the programme moves through increasingly complicated, two then four part arrangements of music that would have been performed in Paris as the first, `truly monumental' cathedral was raised above its foundations.
And just as the building has its foundations - so too with the music: Weaving in and out of the performances is the dignified simplicity of plainchant - the basis from which first Leonin then Perotin departed.
The parallel between the increasing power and complication of the building and the developing richness of the music is deliberate - as Antony Pitts (founder of TONUS PEREGRINUS) makes clear in his excellent booklet notes.
More than anything else, however, this CD deserves to be listened to because of the wonderfully clear performance.
Not everyone will appreciate the use of women's voices for the high parts - but for me they give a strength which more than compensates for any niggles over authenticity.
This is not the only way to approach this wonderful music - but the alternatives will have to be very, very good to supplant this recording as my first choice as an introduction to the world of Gothic Polyphony.
on 7 September 2009
This album of ancient music that would have been heard at the time of building Notre-Dame cathedral, was recorded in the south-west of France by a group of singers called Tonus Peregrinus. They are extremely talented, the recording is brilliant, and the price is a giveaway. The only reason I bought the album was because of the BBC Radio 4 series, the making of music. I originally borrowed the album from a work colleague and was impressed. The album is a delight for de-stressing, and makes a change from either more classical music or choral music with accompanying instruments. The clever things the did with their voices prior to the use of musical instruments is clever and intuitive. A thoroughly good CD.
on 21 February 2013
I am unqualified to give a technical review, but I know it sounds beautiful. This CD was highly recommended upon release, so I gave it a go, having a large classical collection but not particularly enjoying most choral music.
The first piece by the later monk-composer Perotin, Beata Viscera, is a piece for one voice, here sung by Rebecca Hickey, whose voice rises and falls in the spaces of the Abbey of Chancelade in France with beguiling beauty. Let this be a good guide to the enjoyment of the rest of the CD, which explores a key period in the development of religious music, when the Plain (Gregorian) chant was being added to and superceded by the multi-voiced (two, then four, etc) pieces that Leonin and Perotin composed for the Abbey of Notre Dame in Paris, whose soaring Gothic arches were newly built and creating new spaces for worship, sound and thought.
Tonus Peregrinus, the eight-part group of singers, do not just give us a medley of these pieces, but show how they developed both in technical demands, in compositional detail and in how the pieces could sound in these new light-filled temples of the twelfth century.
At times we hear male voices chanting over a drone, then joined by more voices singing different lines, at times the whole group come in to add their glory to the text. After track 30 we hear a peaceful moment with the abbey bell chiming, and as it falters away so begins thirteen minutes of Perotin's 'Sederant principe,' a piece here sung by the ladies instead of the usual boys. This is glorious multi-voiced music, constantly moving and rising and interchanging with angelic sounds all through. The power of the female voices, I think, gives it more feeling than boy voices probably could. It never fails to make me shiver, most beautiful.
I recommend this CD for the beauty and thoughtfulness of the entire project, the result is well worth it!
on 19 April 2013
This is a beautiful CD of some of the earliest harmonic music in Western Art Music. It contains monophonic chants, chants sung over single held notes and harmonic chants with the melody being sung at two different pitches simultaneously. The music is simple but the effect is stunning especially when taken with the long lasting reverberation of Notre-Dame Cathedral.
It is very nice as background music as well as something to listen to attentively. Above all, it evokes an atmosphere of another time and place, something all great art does. I would recommend this album to any fan of choral music although, be warned, it is very sparse and may not be the right thing for lovers of the dense tonal harmony found in choral music of the Baroque period onwards.
Antony Pitts directing the ensemble Tonus Peregrinus have not released many recordings, but what there is comprises many of the great historical landmarks of Western Music. This disc captures the flavour of the bold vocal experiments of the northern French composers of the late 12th and early 13th century, cutting edge music to fill the vast spaces of the newly constructed Gothic cathedrals.
I wouldn't call this my favourite disc of the School of Notre Dame material by any means. Though the performances are technically top class, the recording is a little on the reverberant side, and the performance is not quite as vivacious as others. The programme is largely filled by the two most famous works of the School, the 2-part organum "Viderunt omnes" (here in both the Léonin and Pérotin versions, plus the original plainchant version allowing the listener to appreciate the vast leaps undertaken by these composers) and the 4-part organum "Sederunt principes" of Pérotin. Of the other pieces, the monophonic conductus "Beata viscera" is also one of the more commonly recorded works, and the Notre Dame material is rounded off by a 4-part conductus "Vetus abit littera". The remaining work here is a setting of Psalm 115 Non nobis Domine, with each verse sung employing a different harmonic combination as discussed in the 9th century treatise "Scholia enchiridis", thus showcasing some of the very earliest polyphonic practices of which we know.
The chosen programme, the system of division into tracks ("Viderunt" and "Sederunt" both chopped up into short sections) and the layout of the sung texts part of the booklet almost give the feel of a didactic intent for music students rather than this release being simply for the enjoyment of the average listener. That's not to say that the average listener will not gain experience enjoyment - it's a very good disc indeed but not one to which I can award five stars in comparison to other discs of the genre from which I derive more pleasure. My favourites include those by the ensembles "Red Byrd", "Ensemble Gilles Binchois" and "Diabolus in Musica"; rather than try to give a full list here, others you can find with a search on the tag "school of Notre Dame".