For some reason I am very fond of medieval music and have a large collection of it in its various styles, which is probably why I've never got round to reviewing all the recordings. This recording concentrates on the works of English composers of the Fourteenth Century. Overall it retains the high standards that one has come to expect of the Gothic Voices who have been recording over quite a number of years now as is reflected in the changing members of the singing team. There's not an awful lot that needs to be said except that, if you love medieval music, you will love this recording.
The wonderful thing about this kind of music is that it lifts us right out of the trials and tribulations of everyday life into a realm in which the true meaning of existence can be rewardingly experienced without having to bother about any silliness and spoiling nonsense presented in the words which, if we could hear spoken in our linqua franca, would bore the proverbial pants off us. Although this recording may not be the absolute best in the series, I still think it's easily worth five stars. The six singers perform in a variety of groupings with some solo performances and most of the pieces are of a religious nature. The singers are Catherine King: alto; Steven Harrald, Julian Podger, Leigh Nixon and Charles Daniels: tenor, and Stephen Charlesworth, baritone with Christopher Page directing. Lots of secular medieval music is also available in these Hyperion 'Helios' recordings.
This recording partly fills a gap between some of the earliest English music and later material such as that contained within the Old Hall Manuscript dating from the early 15th century. In effect this disc spans the 14th century, although a couple of earlier 13th century pieces - one perhaps from as early as 1200 - are here too. Unfortunately the accompanying booklet is silent as to the sources for these compositions, but they are all anonymous.
There are several styles showcased here - in the polyphonic pieces, the simpler 'cum eadem littera' forms, and more complex 'cum diversis litteris' motet forms with multiple texts. There are five monophonic pieces which have texts relating to events of the reign of Edward II - one of these, 'Vexilla regni prodeunt', praises the action of Thomas of Lancaster in beheading Edward's favourite Piers Gaveston - it does not hold back in making clear just how detested Gaveston was by the establishment. The other four come from an Office for Thomas, around whom a cult developed and an attempt at canonisation after Edward had him beheaded. The latest work here is a canonic piece, leading naturally into the presence of such forms in the aforementioned Old Hall manuscript.
Although perhaps not the most exciting or entertaining disc of late medieval music, this is nevertheless a fascinating disc charting a period of English musical development and highlighting the contrasts with parallel development on the continent. Director Christopher Page has always had an excellent team of vocalists around him and this is no exception, and the sound quality is excellent.
The booklet contains some rather brief but useful notes on the musical styles of the works. Full sung texts and translations (where possible, as a few of the texts are corrupt and not properly translatable) are supplied.