Under Emperor Maximilian, in 16th century Germany, music of all styles was heard, ranging from polyphony to newer vocal and instrumental forms, by composers from all over Europe. Many composers gravitated to the court, helping further musical discoveries and mixtures. This recording presents a panorama of music from Maximilian's court.
This disc contains several songs in various versions, showing how the same texts were set differently by several composers, as well as in several versions by the same composer. Some of them are vocal works, featuring John Potter, and others are instrumental works, with a small group of musicians playing viols, flutes, recorders, etc.
Try as I might, I cannot manage to really like this disc. While the instrumental pieces are beautiful and are played excellently, there are two inherent weaknesses. The first is the lack of variety of the music. It really all sounds the same - which is not surprising, when looking at the track list: there are several versions of the same pieces. While this can be interesting on some discs, here it doesn't inspire. The second reason is even more subjective, and has to do with John Potter's voice. Potter is a tenor, and, the style of singing for these pieces (and I don't know whether this is intentional or whether this music was really sung this way) is. To me, simply irritating. He sings at the high end of his range, which gives his voice an airy quality, and makes it sound as if he is not in the same spirit as the other musicians. Even worse, there are times, such as during Elslein 3: Sixtus Dietrich, when he struggles to hit some very high notes, and it sets off alarms in this listener's mind. While airy, his voice then becomes almost grating. I should point out that I very much like Potter; his work with the Hilliard Ensemble, one of my favourite vocal groups, is brilliant. (A fine example is the solo piece Alma redemptoris mater, on the Hilliard's recording of works from the Old Hall Manuscript.)
Yes, this my reaction is bound to be subjective. I do not know if this is a mannerism or if, stylistically, this is the way the music is supposed to be sung, but it just does not work.
This recording features some beautiful instrumental work, but suffers from a voice that, for this listener, is just not attractive. Perhaps others may appreciate it, but, caveat emptor. This is a disc to listen to before buying.