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The Language of Love - Songs of the troubadours and trouvères
ANONYMOUS (13th Century)
Por coi me bait mes maris? [2:23]
Dansse Real* [3:05]
La Tierche Estampie Roial [3:08]
En un vergier [6:56]
La Quarte Estampie Royal [2:50]
En ma forest [3:12]
Bele Doette [9:04]
La Prime Estampie Royal [3:40]
Giraut de BORNELH (c.1140 – c.1200)
Reis glorios [7:32]
Gaucelm FAIDIT (c.1170 – 1230)
Lo rossinholet salvatge [9:50]
Colin MUSET (fl. 1200)
Volez oir la muse Muset?* [6:50]
Bernart de VENTADORN (c.1130 – c.1200)
Can l’erba fresch’ [6:18]
Duo Trobairitz: Faye Newton (soprano, symphonie*); Hazel Brooks (vielle)
rec. 17-18 February, 2005, St. Andrew’s Church Toddington Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. DDD
HYPERION CDA67634 [64:55]



To a 21st century mind the concept of courtly love may at times perhaps be hard to understand … subjugation, deliberate seeking of the apparently unobtainable, idealisation. Yet any serious analysis of the phenomenon - prevalent in the royal and ducal courts of southern France in the 12th and 13th centuries - will take note of parallels between the idealised woman (‘midons’) and the Virgin Mary. Other contrasts can be identified: pure love elevated to perfection; of the sublimation of erotic desire into an abstract. This was perhaps a safe outlet for what the church would otherwise suppress. Male humility was within this milieu, a civilizing and pacifying force in a violent world. This complex of values possibly existed as a way to bind together – through accepted protocols and etiquettes – a society with disparate centrifugal forces at work.
 
Courtly love also produced some of the most splendid music of the early Middle Ages. Here we have a major, pleasing and expertly articulated contribution to the recording of that repertoire from relative newcomers duo Trobairitz. Their style and sound well suit the material presented to us by the ever-enterprising Hyperion. They offer a dozen varied works, two thirds of them anonymous and with otherwise less well-known pieces by the likes of de Ventadorn, Muset and de Bornelh.
 
At one level this music is remote, atmospheric, nicely rhythmic and rather rough. But to stop there is to miss the true beauty and intellectual impact of the genres. ‘Genres’ plural: treatises of the time identified several different poetic forms … the canso, alba, dansa, plamb, pastourelle. Then came the many variations in melodic style of composition … and these before regional differences in performance are taken into account. It must be remembered that the original makers of this literature and music were neither ‘wandering’ nor minstrel entertainers, nor particularly humble. Likely to be aristocratic, the early troubadours were highly educated and artistically sophisticated. There is a certain simplicity - yet not completely guileless plainness - in these works:
 
Messatger, vai, e no m’en presez mens,
s’eu del anar vas midons sui temens’
 
‘ Don’t think any the less of me that I’m afraid to go to Mylady’.
 
The most prolific and famous composer of his time was Bernart de Ventadorn whose influence on Gaucelm Faidit is clear from the two lovely examples we have here. Lo rossinholet salvatge is the longest item on ‘The Language of Love’ at almost ten minutes. It’s typical of the extended sinuous lines that weave a vivid, immediate and highly focused tableau out of a rarefied nothing:
 
Cui qu’enoi ni tir
seus sui e nom pose giquir
de leis tan ni quan
 
‘ No matter who is to suffer, I am hers and can never, never leave her’.
 
There is all the psychological density: awareness and regretful acceptance of wider suffering than just the poet’s own. There is a destructive devotion with a reluctance to ‘leave’, despite the fact that poet and lady have in fact no overt or productive ‘understanding’.
 
When you listen to this music, you’re entering a complete world, somewhat introverted, intense and very personal. There is a pressing need for its performers to avoid the mawkish, accentuating instead reflection, passion and the musical tension between resignation and plaintiveness. That’s what duo Trobairitz succeed in very well. They adopt an almost businesslike approach to the slow, plangent exposition of these songs. It is almost as if that faint hope - that love will be requited - isn’t necessary to justify the introspection. The beauty and poignancy of the marriage of words and music allow them to stand by themselves.
 
By neither lingering on nor distorting the musical high-points - as well as the more routine moments - suits modern sensibilities, or emphasises what careful listeners will detect anyway. These two performers display a commitment to the genre and its particular delights that makes this a particularly welcome collection.
 
The items on this CD are recorded in a sequence that brings variety, alternates known composers and anonymous works, contrasts the nine vocal numbers with the three instrumental ones and generally makes an impact as a cohesive whole.
 
It will probably take some time for you to accustom your ears and senses to the singing style of Faye Newton; it’s very polished - perhaps too ‘polite’, a touch too refined, or gentile when compared with the landmark recordings of, say, Mara Kiek. Newton’s is a gentle, nicely understated rather than lightweight voice. You lean forward slightly and become drawn in by the music, not the personality of the singer. Very compelling.
 
Texts in the informative liner notes are in French and English and the whole experience is warm, immediate and thought-provoking. The climbing and dipping melodic line of the anonymous Bele Doette, for example, will stay with you long after the CD is put away. Wonderful.
 
Faye Newton and Hazel Brooks met at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. They formed duo Trobairitz in 2000 to explore the courtly song repertoire of the troubadours and trouvères and met with almost instant acclaim at the Antwerp Young Artists’ Presentation the same year. Thereafter they have performed throughout the UK and Europe and been well received – understandably so. This is their first CD and one can only hope for more releases of this calibre in the near future.
 
Mark Sealey
 



 


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