> Renaissance Music at Princely Courts of Europe [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The honie suckle
Heigh-ho Holiday
The night watch
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)

La caccia
La Sampogna
HENRY VIII (1491-1547)

It is to me a right great joy
Consort I
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)

Now o now I needs must part
Pierre ATTAINGNANT (1494-1522)

Pavane 13
Gaillarde 2
Pavane 1
Gaillarde 2
Claude GERVAISE (????-1560)

Branle de Bourgogne
Branle de Poitou
Pierre CERTON (????-1572)

La, la, la je ne l’ose dire
Entre vous gentilz hommes
Clément JANNEQUIN (1485-1558)

Ce moys de may
Claudin de SERMISY (1490?-1562)

Tant que vivrai/Nachttanz)
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621)

Volte 1
Der Vornehme
Volte 2
Melchior FRANCK (1580?-1639)

3 dances
Hening DEDEKIND (1544-1628)

Trink ich Wein
Giovanni GASTOLDI (1550-1622)

Il premiato
Lo schernito
Poi che rotto ha il lacio Amore
Francesco BENDUSI (????-1553?)

Opera nuova da balli
Adriano BANCHIERI (1565-1634)

Sinfonia senza parole a 4
Giorgio MAINERIO (1535-1582)

Ballo anglese
Rozmberk Consort, Prague, directed by Frantisek Pok
Recorded in 1993 at the DAMU studios, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU3194-2 931 [60.12]


This attractive disc is quite simply a guided tour of four of the royal courts of Europe of the renaissance. The Rozmberk Consort as represented on this 1993 disc is a most accomplished group of period players, eight of them, plus their director, who play here more than twenty-five different instruments between them. Libor Zidek, as well as playing the chamois horn, the crumhorn, the string drum and other percussion instruments, also provides the vocal part to the four sung pieces.

The tour begins in London at the court of Elizabeth I. The music of Anthony Holborne, first on the disc, is very engaging indeed. A lovely Pavane which begins with a beautifully played passage for harp is followed by a lively Galliard featuring recorders. Heigh-ho Holiday is a short piece which alternates not only quick dance rhythms with slower, more reflective passages but also the instrumental combinations that go with them. And to judge from the piece named after him the night watch must have been a very jolly chap indeed, represented here by shrill, brilliantly played recorders.

The rest of the English contribution comprises two lovely pieces in two parts, much of the music imitative in nature, by Morley, and two delicate, touching pieces by Henry VIII, both featuring the harp. The final piece, a rousing song by Dowland accompanied by crumhorns and recorders, will surprise those expecting a lute-song transcription in the composer’s habitual melancholy vein.

The music to be heard at the French Court in Paris at this time was quite different, by all accounts, from what was taking place in London: quite startlingly so on this disc, in fact, where the first of two Pavanes by Attaignant features the xylophone, an instrument I have never heard used in music of this period. All four short pieces by this composer are full of delicate charm. The first of the pieces by Claude Gervaise treats us to the sound of the bombard, but the second, even more strikingly, the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument whose name perfectly conjures up its sound, a kind of mad, undisciplined bagpipes. The same piece features the fearsome sound of the string drum: this is quite unlike anything I have ever heard and you will have to buy this disc – recommended – if you want to know what I mean by fearsome. Certon, Janequin and de Sermisy are represented by their chansons, taken, in the case of the quicker pieces, at speeds much more steady than we are used to. One of the Certon chansons introduces the noble sound of the serpent, an instrument still in use in English parish churches in Hardy’s time. Only de Sermisy’s Tant que je vivrai is sung, the others being given in instrumental versions.

Passing to what was on offer in the literally hundreds of royal courts littered throughout the German lands, the first piece is a striking bagpipes and crumhorns offering from Praetorius which really is splendidly sonorous and impressive, quite the opposite of the intimate harpsichord piece which follows which is played on an instrument built in the workshops of the director of this collection, Frantisek Pok. The selection closes with a rousing drinking song and even with my rudimentary German I can hear, in the absence of printed texts, that the virtues of drinking wine for health reasons are being extolled. Nothing new there, then.

The Rozmberk Consort take their name from the musicians who entertained at the Rozmberk Court in southern Bohemia in the second half of the sixteenth century. Curiously, of the royal courts included in this survey, only here were the musicians imported, mainly from the Italian lands, rather than home grown. The recital therefore ends with a number of short pieces by Italian composers, including some engaging dance music by Bendusi, a new name to me, some music for positive organ as beautifully written as it is played here, and a striking piece by Banchieri featuring the cornett.

There is a short accompanying essay which serves as an introduction but little more, and more useful is the list of instruments used along with the pieces in which they appear. The titles of the pieces are listed on the back of the box in a kind of tiny italic script which is not easy to read. The whole collection is exceptionally well played and recorded. Only in the case of the harpsichord did I find the sound of the instrument – though certainly not the playing – rather limited. The music itself is well chosen, varied and extremely enjoyable, To what extent the purists, or those particularly well versed in the music and performing practices of this period, will find it authentic I wouldn’t like to say, but it all sounds very convincing to me, except in one respect. The technical mastery these players possess leads to music making which is at once brilliant and particularly sonorous. There is a richness to the sound which is rare in even the best period groups, and if those who listened at Europe’s princely courts in the sixteenth century were treated to artistry like this they were lucky indeed.

William Hedley

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