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A Songbook for Isabella: Music from the Circle of Isabella d’Este c. 1500
Antoine BUSNOIS (d.1492) Fortuna desperate a 4;
Johannes OCKEGHEM (d.1497) Prenez sur moy a 4;
Firminus CARON (c.1480) Helas que pera ad venire a 3;
Alexander AGRICOLA (d.1506) Si dedero a 3, a 4;
Josquin des PREZ (d.1525) In te Domine speravi a 4;
Iannis PLICE (?) A la pesca a 4;
Heinrich ISAAC (d.1517) La Mi a 4; Benedictus; Absque verbis a 3; Gratis acceptistis a 4; La Mora a3, a 4;
Bartolemeo TROMBONCINO (c.1500) Or che son di pregion a 4;
ANON. Or su corere a 4; Facia ognon in fin che po a 4; (Gagliarda) Peschatore; A la cazza a 4; Galliardo; Kyrie Eleison a 4; Columba senza fielle; Pavana regia; Ave Maris stella a 3; La mi sol la mi gia vol a 4; O triumphale diamante a 4; Tene alora a 4; Verbum caro factus est a 3; Ne la digna stella a 2; Recerchar di Benedictus; (Salterello) Zorzi, Giorgio; Forte cosa e la speranza a 5.
Musica Antiqua of London/Philip Thorby
Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano)
Recorded at the National Centre for Early Music, York, September 2002
SIGNUM SIGCD039 [75.26]
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On this Signum release we are entertained by late fifteenth century music from the personal songbook of Isabella d’Este, the daughter of the Duke of Ferrara and wife of the Duke of Mantua. Isabella’s songbook has survived in the Bibliothèque National in Paris and contains mainly accompanied songs both sacred and secular plus some instrumental works. These are composed in the Burgundian tradition by leading Flemish composers of the day including Josquin, Isaac and Ockeghem, who were plying their trade in Isabella’s Italy.

Isabella had learned to sing and proficiently play the viol, lute and harpsichord, all instruments deemed appropriate for a young Lady of aristocratic status. In 1499 the Duchess succumbed to the new fashion and developed the use of the consort of viols in the court of Ferrara. The consort of viols can sound most impressive too, as heard in Isaac’s La mi a 4 (01:12 track 16) and Absque verbis a 3 (01:02 track 24). The songbook contains a marvellously rich cross-section of vocal and instrumental music which utilises the voice and various combinations of four viols, four recorders, three crumhorns, lutes and guitar. It should be noted that several dances or lute solos, works not from the songbook, have been added to the disc from contemporary sources.

Using instruments that were specially commissioned sets of period copies the players of Musica Antiqua display their charming musicianship consistently throughout. Director Philip Thorby presents a most persuasive argument for the merits of this largely unfamiliar repertoire and captures the essential Mediterranean spirit of the works with finely paced, well balanced and refined interpretations. Clare Wilkinson, the mezzo-soprano soloist, provides a real sense of engagement in these difficult works and seems especially at home in the slower paced songs (01:45, track 4 and 00:06, track 15). However the mezzo-soprano does not always convince me technically, sounding somewhat variable in intonation and occasionally rather uncomfortable in her ornamentations (00:14, track 1). I find the sound quality acceptable and have heard clearer recordings from the Signum engineers.

Signum records are to be congratulated for yet another release of late-renaissance music which certainly help to fill gaps in the catalogue of this rare repertoire. Clearly not every one will be able to take seventy five minutes of late-fifteenth century music at one sitting however pleasurable and abundant discoveries await the more adventurous listener.

Michael Cookson


see also review by Gary Higginson

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Track nş1 - ANON
La Fortuna
Track nş2 - A. BUSNOIS
La Fortuna
Track nş3 - ANON
La Fortuna
Track nş4 - J. OCKEGHEM
Prenez sur moy vostre example
Track nş5 - F. CARON
Prenez sur moy vostre example
Track nş6 - B. TROMBONCINO
Prenez sur moy vostre example
Track nş7 - I. PLICE
A la cazza
Track nş8 - ANON
A la cazza
Track nş9 - ANON
A la cazza
Track nş10 - ANON
Kyrie Eleison
Track nş11 - ANON
Kyrie Eleison
Track nş12 - ANON
Pavana regia
Track nş13 - ANON
Carmine sine verbis I
Track nş14 - A. AGRICOLA
Carmine sine verbis I
Track nş15 - ANON
Ave Maris Stella
Track nş16 - H. ISAAC
La Mi La Sol
Track nş17 - ANON
La Mi La Sol
Track nş18 - ANON
Viva el Grand Hercule
Track nş19 - ANON
Viva el Grand Hercule
Track nş20 - ANON
In Festo Natalis Domini
Track nş21 - ANON
In Festo Natalis Domini
Track nş22 - ANON
Recerchar di Benedictus
Track nş23 - H. ISAAC
Track nş24 - H. ISAAC
Carmine since verbis II
Track nş25 - H. ISAAC
Carmine since verbis II
Track nş26 - H. ISAAC
Carmine since verbis II
Track nş27 - PREZ J. DES
La Speranza
Track nş28 - ANON
La Speranza
Track nş29 - ANON
La Speranza

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