> LES ESCHOLIERS DE PARIS [GH]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Motets, Chansons, and Estampies from 13th Century France
Ensemble Gilles Binchois Directed by Dominique Vellard
Recorded at the church of Saint-Germain, Gancey-le-Chateau, Cote-d’or October 1992
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This disc is a different kettle of fish from the Notre Dame Harmonic. It is more consistently enjoyable although spoiled, I still feel, by a few all-male items which are lacking in vitality and colour as for example, and unfortunately the last item, the three part ‘Helas! Tant vi male eure’. Nevertheless I have no reservation in recommending this disc.

Again we have excellent presentation; a beautiful booklet, a pull-out pamphlet giving performance details, two fascinating essays on the performers Dominique and Anne-Marie Vellard - all well translated. The texts are given in Latin and French but only translated into modern French.

This disc consists of secular music. Twenty tracks which include thirteen polytextual motets from various sources. The booklet makes clear which they are including the oft-recorded and vast Montpellier manuscript and the smaller La Clayette manuscript. The instrumental pieces, the estampies, are from the so-called ‘Manuscript Français’ and the four monophonic troubadour songs by Gace Brule, Thibault de Champagne and Gillebert de Berneville are from the Chansonnier Cange.

Willem de Waal who also contributes a long and fascinating essay quotes Johannes de Grocheio and his treatise ‘De Musica’ in describing various styles of music considered prevalent c.1280. They are ‘Musica civillis’ which is light-hearted represented by the instrumental dances, ‘Chansons de geste’ for older and working folk which tell of life and its various struggles, as represented by ‘Haute Chose a en amour’ by Berneville, and ‘Cantus Coronatus’ as represented by ‘De ma dame souvenir’ by Thibault de Champagne King of Navarre, music for the nobility, songs on a chivalric subject. There is also ‘Cantus versualis’ music for youths especially to enjoy as represented by ‘Jolis cuers et sovenance’ played instrumentally on outdoor instruments. Then there are the motets.

These may well have been composed as separate melodies but at some point were found to fit together over a well-known bass melody called a tenor. An example is ‘In Saeculum’ a plainsong fragment. These, according to Grocheio, should only be performed to a cultured audience who would try to understand the music, which after all, included Hoquetus, or voice exchange - a curious splitting up of the melodies which can sound ridiculous if not done musically and which was looked down on by the church. These motets have no connection, by the way, with the 16th Century form as cultivated by Palestrina indeed they often contain some quite risqué words about Robin and Marian and what they got up to in the greenwood.

The singing is almost entirely wonderful. There is, for want of a better term, a stronger sense of stylistic ensemble. The men especially are generally more careful with dynamics on this CD and at keeping the listener’s attention, and the text is enunciated more clearly.
Gary Higginson


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