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| Motets and anonymous music from the Ivrea
Guillaume de MACHAUT
Dame/Fins cuers doulz
Trop plus est bele/Biaute paree de valour
Lassel/Se j’aim mon loyal ami
Tu qui gregem/Plange, regni respublica
Christe qui lux/Veni creator spiritus
Felix virgo/Inviolata genitrix
Qui es promesse/Ha! Fortune
Anonymous music from the IVREA CODEX
Sanctus: Sanans fragila
Gloria: Et verus homo
Clap, clap/Sus Robin
Post missarum sollempnia/Post misse modulamina
The Clerks’ Group/Edward Wickham - director
Recordings made in St Andrew’s Church, West Wratting, Oxfordshire, England on 4 and 5 May 1998
SIGNUM SIGCD011 [56’12"]
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Mediaeval music is not everyone’s cup of tea. As a period of history the 14th century seems just so long ago that it bears little on the experiences of people today. Artistically, however, the period was one of startling new sounds and colours, both visually and aurally. As far as music is concerned the name of Guillaume de Machaut stands massively above all others, but there was actually plenty of musical composition apart from Machaut. The music of the era is well worth hearing, and far more varied than one might suspect, but it does need some intellectual input from the listener.
Edward Wickham’s The Clerk’s Group present on this disc a selection of music from one of the important manuscript sources of 14th century polyphony, now living, rather touchingly, in the chapter house of the cathedral in the small Italian alpine town of Ivrea - hence the name. In common with many such collections the name of Machaut features largely and this disc includes several chanson melodies masquerading as motets. The idea that there should be several lines of text sung at once (in some cases sacred and secular at the same time) strikes the modern listener as strange. Clearly the obvious audibility of the words themselves was not considered of such importance to mediaeval composers as to us. The result of these differing but simultaneous lines of text is that the music receives a richness of colour from the varied vowel sounds. This wide palette makes for fascinatingly kaleidoscopic results. [Sample 1]
On this recording The Clerk’s Group consists of five singers and they are able to reproduce the complex lines of this intricate polyphony with clarity and, in many cases a clear sense of fun. The opening anonymous Sanctus belies the image of mediaeval music as dark and austere. [Sample 2] At other points Wickham manages to get his singers to produce an intensity of sound that is equally impressive in its quiet restraint. The opening of Tu qui gregem/Plange, regni respublica feels like a large sound, but in fact is merely a sound with intensity and direction. From that opening the piece develops and grows in a succession of quietly intense phrases of hocketts in the upper voices over a slow moving bass line. The architectural concept is impressively brought across.
Of the anonymous pieces most are Mass movements. The largest of these is a Credo at over six minutes long. Whoever this music is by, they knew what they were doing. Clearly this was composed with the professional musicians of Cathedral establishments in mind and the small forces with which Wickham performs this underline the essentially soloistic and virtuoso nature of the composition. In this regard the sparkling sound of Lucy Ballard is particularly enjoyable, although what the justification for using a female alto in this repertoire is it is hard to understand. In theory, all of this music was sung by men - castrati unlikely, falsettists probable. If today’s performer is going to go down the route of period pronunciation and one-voice-to-a-part performance then why not use all-male forces as well? In this case it is possibly just because Ballard makes a lovely noise; certainly this reviewer is pleased she is there, although musicologically she is unsupportable. [Sample 3] As a well performed introduction to some of the finest, if rarer, music of the mediaeval period, this is a good disc.
Sample 1; track 5 start 1’26"
G. DE MACHAUT
G. DE MACHAUT
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