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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


ECOLE DE NOTRES DAME DE PARIS (1163-1245)
Monody and Polyphony – Organum, Motets and Conductus
Ensemble Gilles Binchois directed by Dominique Vellard
Recorded Saint-Martin’s Collegiate Church, Champeux, France, August 1986
HARMONIC RECORDS HCD 8611 [53.03]
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This CD, which originally came out in 1987, consists of fourteen tracks and contains a mixture of sacred music from the school of Notre Dame. This was a powerful focus for the artists, scholars, theologians and musicians of Paris from about 1160 to the middle of the thirteenth century. This was prompted, no doubt, by the rebuilding of the Cathedral in 1160.

Musically there are two schools. That of Leonin fl. c.1160 and that of Perotin fl. C.1200. An Englishman, one Coussemaker wrote in 1280 "Magister Leonin was the best composer of organum" (two-part motets) "but Magister Perotinus wrote the best quadrupla (four part organum). It is nevertheless very difficult to attribute more than a handful of pieces to each, and the names of any other Notre–Dame composers do not exist. Stylistically there is an easily heard difference between them. Leonin works are in two parts, with a slow moving bass and a much faster more virtuoso upper line. Perotin works in three parts with the exception of the great and remarkable Christmas-tide works like ‘Viderunt Omnes’ (not recorded here) which are the earliest works in four parts.

The Ensemble Gilles Binchois have recorded repertoire ranging from the large three part ‘Alleluia Nativitas’ of Perotin and the equally large ‘Haec Dies’ in two parts of the Leonin school, to the quiet and intimate, monophonic rondellus like ‘Dum Medium Silentium’ and the three part conductus like the ethereal ‘O Summa Regis Mater Inclita’ the disc ends with a suitable 4 part ‘Benedicamus Domino’ setting, words which generally ended the mass.

It is unfortunate that the first track, the ‘Alleluia Nativitas’ is rather slow and turgid and rhythmically confused. I'm sorry to say that on this CD whenever the men of the ensemble sing I feel that I want urgently to move on to the next track. The disc gives more enjoyment when there is more life and vigour as in the beautiful three-part ‘Stella Serena’ and ‘Gaudeat Devotio Fidelium’. The women’s voices are nicely balanced and well focused and can show the men a thing a two.

The disc as a whole is well planned and beautifully presented although I always find myself preferring more recent recordings of individual works as for example by Gothic Voices or as in Perotin’s Beata Viscera by the Hilliard Ensemble or on the recent disc by Sinfonye entitled ‘Trois Soeurs’. The accompanying essay by Dominique Vellard is excellent and well translated; the texts however are only translated into French. They are adorned with illustrations of the original manuscripts.

Sadly I find it difficult to recommend this disc, the repertoire is available elsewhere and in more arresting and exciting performances.

Gary Higginson



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