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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars La contenance angloise, 14 Jun 2012
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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Thankfully there is an increasing appreciation of the contribution of English composers to the development of Renaissance music. It's only been recently that scholarship has indicated that the cantus firmus technique and the addition of the fourth voice were in fact English rather than Continental inventions, as evidenced by anonymous masses from the 1440's (see Gothic Voices' Spirits Of England & France Vol.4 (Missa Caput) & Spirits Of England & France Vol.5 (Missa Veterem Hominem)).

The importance of earlier English composers who influenced their contemporaries at the Burgundian courts such as Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois and who in their turn inspired the whole series of Franco-Flemish composers has however been well known - these continentals wrote in praise of "la contenance angloise" - but recordings of such works have been sparse relative to those of the European musicians.

This re-release of two Hilliard Ensemble discs recorded in the early 1980s is therefore particularly welcome. These recordings respectively present works by two of the greatest names in the early 15th century flowering of English music, Leonel Power and John Dunstable (or Dunstaple).

Power, active from at least the early 1420's to his death in 1445, may have been the first composer to write a complete mass cycle (four movements without a Kyrie as was often the case in early polyphonic masses), the Missa "Alma Redemptoris Mater" here on this recording, using the cantus firmus technique. Other mass movements (a four part Sanctus/Agnus Dei pairing and a five part Gloria/Credo couplet) are also presented here along with a number of three part motets. Some of his works are preserved in the Old Hall manuscript, and important source of late 14th and early 15th century English music. His mid-to-later period motets are mostly found in continental sources, indicative of his admiration there. His compositions show evolution from earlier works reminiscent of the ars nova of Machaut and the like through to later refinement almost anticipating the style of Dufay.

His compatriot Dunstable, composing from the 1410s until his death in 1453, was a name which almost became synonymous with English music among European counterparts, who wrote in praise of him. Indeed if any more confirmation were required, most of his works actually survive in continental sources. Something of a polymath, he was also an accomplished astronomer, astrologer and mathematician - his epitaph stated that he had "secret knowledge of the stars" - and these talents are perhaps evident in his delight in incorporating mathematical structures into his compositions. The mass movements and motets presented here include two isorhythmic motets (using repeated rhythmic patterns at varying speeds in all voices), "Veni Sancte Spiritus" and "Preco Preheminenciae", which have historical significance as being composed for a thanksgiving ceremony held in Canterbury Cathedral in 1416 following the Battle of Agincourt and the Siege of Harfleur.

The seven vocalists who combine in various combinations on these two discs display the kind of quality we have since come to expect from the Hilliard Ensemble, flawless vocals with a rarely parallelled feel for the music of the era. The two discs are packaged in single thickness jewel case. The accompanying booklet provides a couple of pages of newly written notes (English/German/French), but sadly and rather annoyingly as is always the case with these Virgin Veritas reissues no sung texts/translations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars marvellous polyphony, 11 July 2012
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I'm going to give this five stars because the Dunstaple - or Dunstable, if you prefer - is one of the rare glimpses into the work of one of the most influential composers of his time. He transformed the way that composers thought about polyphony and put the English composers into the forefront (though he actually spent most of his time in France). I've had an earlier release for some years and I still play it regularly. The Hilliard Ensemble have long been a standard by which other early music choirs can be judged. Their versions of Lassus, Palestrina and Gombert are simply superb. With the Hilliards, each part is performed with a single voice, which gives great clarity and demands that every voice be perfect. Which they are. The Power is also significant, but sounds just a little thin - I would have given it four stars on its own.
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Power / Dunstaple: Masses and Motets
Power / Dunstaple: Masses and Motets by The Hilliard Ensemble
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