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Guillaume DUFAY (attr.) (?1397-1474)
Mass for Saint Anthony Abbot [50.50]: Introit [5.25]; Kyrie [2.53]; Gloria [8.34]; Gradual [4.16]; Alleluia [5.27]; Credo [9.09]; Offertory [3.05]; Sanctus [6.06]; Agnus Dei [3.22]; Communion [2.02]
Gilles BINCHOIS (c.1400-1460)

Domitor Hectoris [4.07]; Kyrie ‘in simplici die’ [2.16]; Sanctus [4.42]; Agnus Dei [3.21]; Nove cantum melodie [5.00]
The Binchois Consort: Mark Chambers, William Towers (altos), Edwin Simpson, Nick Todd, Matthew Vine, Christopher Watson (tenors), Andrew Kirkman (conductor)
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, London, 13-15 January 2004 DDD
HYPERION CDA67474 [70.54]

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Saint Anthony Abbot ("of Vienne") is the inspiration for two of the works on this recently recorded disc. This Saint Anthony (not to be confused with Saint Anthony of Padua) is well-known as one of the Egyptian desert fathers, a hermit and contemplative living in the third and fourth centuries AD. Although he never founded an order, he came to be one of the forefathers of Western monasticism, whose relics, moved to their final resting place near Vienne, were said to have miraculous healing powers.

The first work is a ten-movement plenary mass, an anonymous Missa Beati Anthonii which was discovered in a group of fifteenth century codices in Trent in Northern Italy. The manuscript corresponds in its exact combination of texts and melodies for the Proper to those found apparently exclusively in the chant books of the chapel of St. Stephen in Cambrai Cathedral, where Dufay had both trained and was later canon. This gives rise to the exciting speculation that it is the second of two Saint Anthony Masses (the first being for Saint Anthony of Padua) bequeathed in his will to the cathedral by Dufay, neither of which survived. The three-voice mass, here reconstructed by Alejandro Planchart, celebrates the feast of St. Anthony on 17th January, and is presented as it would have been sung at Cambrai Cathedral in the last decades of the fifteenth century. Although certainly the influence, at least, of Dufay rings out clearly and recognisable, there are a few sections that are less obviously marked with Dufay’s voice. The sleeve-notes, although leaving us to decide for ourselves whether it is indeed Dufay’s work or that of a skilled pupil, exhort us to bear in mind the fact that we are not so familiar with his later three-voice style. Although it is generally assumed that Dufay had moved on to a four-voice style in his later works, both the Anthony Masses and the lost Requiem were written in a three-part texture, which, ever the craftsman, no doubt he had developed and elaborated in his own way.

The other Saint Anthony work on this disc is Binchois’s Nove cantum melodie, composed for the baptism of the Duke of Burgundy’s son in 1431, Saint Anthony being the child’s name-saint. The two missing voices from the first section have here been reconstructed by Philip Weller, allowing for a first recording of the complete work. An isorhythmic motet, this is deeply innovative and brilliantly crafted, creating music that is driven and flowing despite its rigid rhythmic structures.

Binchois fills the rest of the disc with his motet, Domitor Hectoris, whose text speaks of the Cross and Holy Lance, with symbolic reference to the healing of Telephus of Troy, who was wounded by Achilles and Adam ("The First Parent"), and three mass movements, a Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. These are simpler pieces than the other Binchois works featured here but are still deeply lyrical and moving. I personally like the touch of taking the Kyrie faster than would possibly be considered normal – it gives greater animation and vivacity to a wonderful movement.

These gorgeous works are outstandingly performed by The Binchois Consort under Andrew Kirkman (who have also recorded the Dufay Saint Anthony of Padua Mass - found in the Trent codices around twenty years earlier - for Hyperion). They combine exquisite voice control with perfect intonation to create wonderfully fluid, sustained lines, and an apt air of reverence, ceremony and awe, without being at all stuffy – a breath of fresh air!

This is music that one can lose oneself in. Often searingly beautiful, often surprisingly inventive, and always brilliantly performed; music that is good for both ear and soul.

Em Marshall

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