This is the third cd in the great series of Helios cds released by Hyperion, which features early music of England and France. This cd features music of “Binchois and his contemporaries”.
There are eighteen pieces on the cd, six of which are written by Gilles Binchois (c. 1400 – 1460), one of the most important composers of the early Burgundian school of the fifteenth century, and a contemporary of Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397 – 1474), and of the English composer John Dunstable (c. 1390 – 1453).
Other composers featured are: Cardot (c. 1380 – 1470) Gilet Velut (fl. c. 1410 – 1430) Johannes Legrant (fl. c. 1420 – 1440) Johannes de Lymburgia (fl. 1400 – 1440) Leonel Power (d. 1445) John Dunstable Pierre Fontaine (c. 1380 – c. 1450) Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300 – 1377) Byttering (fl. c. 1410 – 1420) And the well-known medieval composer, Anonymous.
There are four instrumental pieces, by Binchois, Cardot, Velut and Legrant. The other pieces feature vocal performances, which are performed by Catherine King, Margaret Philpot, Rogers Covey-Crump, Paul Agnew, Steven Harrold, Julian Podger, Leigh Nixon, Stephen Charlesworth and Henry Wickham. Shirley Rumsey, Christopher Wilson and Christopoher Page play the lute.
There is a great accompanying booklet, which outlines the program, and has all the lyrics, and translations of the pieces, which is really interesting. The booklet explains that English music of the earlier fifteenth century will be explored in forthcoming volumes of the series, so music on this cd from England is confined to Dunstable and Byttering, and one anonymous piece. The pieces themselves are celebrations of love and beauty, of God and religion; even in English translation they are all beautiful works of poetry, and the wonderful performances available on this cd only highlight their beauty and lyricism as words and music. Totally recommended to anyone interested in medieval music.
The scholarship of Christopher Page and the musicianship and empathy for the music of the period of Gothic Voices makes this third volume in the series a delight to hear. The music has an air of tranquility that is most welcome in this hectic modern world. This is truly music to soothe the troubled spirit and calm the temper: altogether a a total pleasure.
All the CD recordings made by Gothic Voices are first-rate and this one is no exception. Although this recording is, in part, more dolorous than the others, it's not extensively so. For instance, there's a rousing Gloria on track 11 and an uplifting Magnificat on track 12. Tracks 1, 4, 6 and 9 are given over to some liquiditous lute playing. The saddest piece is Ay! doloureux sung for over eight and a half minutes by a tenor and two baritones on track 5. However, since music is capable of expressing every emotion, it would be a sorry state of affairs if we were to downgrade parts of music compositions on account of their being too doleful. What these recordings of medieval music show us is that composers living 800 years ago were every bit as capable of nuancing multifaceted emotional experiences as are any of their modern counterparts.
The devising of a system of written notation was a great step forward and we shall never know precisely what very early music sounded like. Happily, such groups as Gothic Voices have resurrected and performed for us a vast array of medieval European music, enabling us to say, along with Picasso when he first set eyes on the cave paintings: 'We have learnt nothing.' We can move the notes around, invent new instruments and improve on others, compile orchestras and develop the quality of the human voice as much as we like, but all this will never become more than a variation upon what was already there, if only, in some cases, in embryonic form waiting for the midwifery of future composers.
On the front cover of the excellent explanatory booklet accompanying the disc, the portrait of the thoughtful face of Pierre Bladelin, steward of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, is reminiscent of someone absorbed in listening to sounds of thought provoking music of the kind we have in this superb recording. We can be eternally grateful to Gothic Voices for restoring to us so much of what was best about the medieval world, in which so many painfully unpleasant things happened. Sadly, much suffering is still with us, which is why thought provoking plus healing music is more relevant to the world than ever it was. This is a great recording and I thoroughly recommend it.
It's quite a varied programme on offer with this disc with a range of secular and sacred forms. The great Gilles Binchois gets the largest share of compositions featured, there is one piece each from John Dunstable and Guillaume de Machaut, plus there are several much less well known artists - Cardot, Gilet Velut, Johannes Legrant, Johannes De Limburgia, Leonel Power, Pierre Fontaine, that prolific composer "Anonymous", and a motet, seemingly composed for the wedding of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, by the Englishman simply known as Byttering.
Though it pains me to say it for a recording by an ensemble so technically skilled as Gothic Voices, the choice of programme itself is the problem here. The common denominator for the majority of the compositions is that they are, though beautiful, somewhat dolorous and morose. It's a bit like listening to a Renaissance equivalent of a Smiths or Joy Division album. Overall there is not the same uplifting quality to it as with the Gothic Voices discs I have heard.
The accompanying booklet provides some notes in English, French & German, plus full French & Latin sung texts with English translations.