is the second disc recorded by the nine strong group Tonus Peregrinus.
It follows their wonderful recording of the ‘Missa Tournai’
which came out last year. This disc has proved to be even better.
In fact it is one of the most intriguing discs of 12th/13th
music issued for some time and at Naxos’s price well worth it.
of these pieces have been chewed over by various performers
in the past but Tonus Peregrinus have a new approach, in fact
several new approaches. These throw new light on this repertoire
and make for a fascinating and generous seventy minutes of listening.
I will explain further.
to Léonin is, if I may use architectural terminology, like viewing
Romanesque architecture. Listening to Perotin is like seeing
the new early Gothic style. And it is appropriate to see it
this way as both worked at Notre-Dame in Paris and parts of
it were, at the end of Leonin’s life, being turned into a new
style Gothic building. Building work must have been going on
as Perotin ‘improved’ upon his predecessor’s work. And although
it’s tempting to see Léonin as rather primitive and Perotin’s
flowering lines as more exciting, one must take Léonin for what
he is, and in my view he ranks as high as his successor.
you have recordings of Léonin by Red Byrd (RB) (Hyperion CDA66944)
and by David Munrow with the Early Music Consort (EMC) on Archiv.
If so you might be immediately surprised that Tonus Peregrinus
(TP) take seventeen and a half minutes over the 'Viderunt Omnes'
(a Christmas-time work) whereas RB takes just over eight and
the EMC just over nine. Why is that? It is partly a question
of interpreting the notation. Some sections of the music need
a regular rhythmic approach we might say, which normally comes
out in compound time; other sections are improvisatory over
each of the plainchant notes held for an extraordinary long
time. The speed at which these latter sections are taken is
crucial. Are they just virtuosic roulades to be tossed off or
is each note almost to be savoured or at least to be heard as
part of an overall melodic shape? Oddly enough I wasn’t at all
irritated by the extraordinary length of this interpretation.
Helped by the superb acoustic of Chancelade Abbey the music
sounds so inevitable and all-embracing.
the performances of the Perotin pieces we have more competition.
Let’s take the ‘Viderunt Omnes’ again. Here it lasts sixteen
massive minutes, the compound time sections slowly echoing around
the massive vaulting. Munrow, studio-bound of course in 1975,
takes five minutes less, exactly the same as the yard-stick
version, for me, that by the Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 1385). Another
disc of this repertoire by the Orlando Consort (Archiv 453 487
-2) only has on it Perotin’s other great ‘Quadrupla’, the 'Sederunt
Omnes'. Curiously they take three minutes longer than TP because
of the laboured manner in which the plainsong interpolations
Léonin is constantly and extravagantly inventing new lines exploiting
vocal brilliance and decoration (a product of all Romanesque
Art), Perotin relies on repetition and exchange of parts. In
addition Perotin preferred to limit himself to a handful of
short phrases which he could work into a pattern at once ever-changing
yet always the same; the first minimalist? In these slower performances
this comes across very well aided as I say by an ideal acoustic
with real atmosphere. It is also aided by superb singing which
is not only powerful but also sensitive to dynamic variation
and the use of effective crescendo.
still can’t quite get over the thrill but in some ways the alarm
of hearing Perotin’s ‘Sederunt’ sung by women with a gentle
tenor part underneath sustaining the plainchant.
shouldn’t really be surprised as ‘Anonymous 4’ were recording
similar repertoire for about fifteen years. True there is a
certain shrillness when the register is at its peak but the
higher register allows for a greater clarity in the hearing
of the polyphony and antiphony. There is also a terrific sense
of accumulating architecture.
perhaps unique feature of this disc is the singing of Psalm
115 ‘Non Nobis Domine’ from the ‘Scolica enchiriadis’. This
is in a way a didactic exercise in the performance of Organum
from the period approximately 900-1050. If not everyone in a
choir can sing a certain melody at the same pitch, why not ask
some to sing it a fourth lower or higher, a fifth lower or higher
or an octave lower or higher. Dependent on how many singers
you have available you might do many or indeed most of those
things at the same time. That is what happens here. By dividing
the psalm into twenty-six verses it proves possible to utilize
different types of Organum between the men and women in a most
colourful if, it must be admitted, inauthentic manner. The Gloria
ends with a solo and then unison.
whereas each of the other pieces has been multi-tracked, for
example the Léonin allocated trs. 3-23 (!) these separate verses
are not individually tracked. This is a pity. Perotin’s ‘Sederunt’
suffers the same fate. I wonder why this inconsistency?
final track is devoted to another Christmas piece: often recorded
four-voice conductus ‘Vetus abit littera’. This is a truly dancing
performance when compared with Gothic Voices’ very likeable
reading on ‘Music for the Lion-Hearted King’ (Hyperion CDA 66336)
and brings the CD to a superb close.
addition the disc offers a typical ‘ars antiqua’ motet and a
simple and moving unaccompanied performance of Perotin’s ‘Beata
Viscera’ by the perfect Rebecca Hickey, - an intriguing way
of starting the disc.
CD booklet is a model of its kind. All tracks are clearly explained.
There is a superb introductory explanation by an expert - no
less than Antony Pitts who has also edited the music. All texts
are given and translated. Illustrations of two of the manuscripts
are reproduced. There is a photo and biographies are given for
each of the performers.
sum up. A wonderful seventy minutes of the earliest polyphonic
music known in Europe. Praise cannot be high enough for the
entire project and team. One of my recordings of the year so
far. You should go out and buy it instantly.