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Delectatio Angeli: Music of love, longing and lament
John BEDYNGHAM (c.1460) O rosa bella [3.38]; Bernart de VENTADORN (1125-1195) Can vei la lauzete mover [7.15]; Jehan VAILLANT (fl.c.1360-90) Par maintes foys [2.49]; Etienne de MEAUX (fl.c.1300) Trop est mes maris jalos [3.28]; Francesco LANDINI (1325-1397) Giunta vaga bilta [2.35]; Matheus de PERUSIO (d.1418) le greygnour bien [4.36]; Johannes CICONIA (1335-1411) Per quella strada [3.19]; Guillaume DUFAY (c.1397-1474) Hélas mon dueil [3.14]; L’alta belleza tua [1.38]; Anon English 13th Century English Dance; Anon Spanish c.1300 Four Planctus (La Huelgas ms) [15.54]
Catherine Bott and friends (Pavlo Beznosiuk and Mark Levy (medieval fiddles))
rec. Angel Studios, Islington, London, April 2001.
HYPERION CDA 67549 [62.26]

I must state right at the start that for a while I worked with Catherine Bott when we were both contemporary students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. This was during the mid-1970s. I can also remember that, when she was about 19 or 20, she gave a recital at the college when she sang some Kurt Weill. She lost her way on that occasion but kept the tune by singing "I’m zorry but I have forgot ze vords". This same self-confidence that she seems to have brought with her straight from school gave her such a good start and has enabled her especially to communicate her love of medieval music and poetry.

This amazing disc could only have been produced by Hyperion. The only question is why they have taken so long to release it. This cultured, beautifully presented programme is typical of them. Commercial issues aside the disc, with its subtle pleasures, needed to be made.

It is her work with Philip Pickett’s Early Music Consort that has made Catherine Bott a relatively well known name. Her fellow performers here have also worked with Pickett and are complete masters of these instruments. They are also great improvisers as can be heard in the last track, the ‘Four Planctus’. These Spanish laments are each preceded by an improvisatory passage. I find this track, the longest on the disc, the least convincing. This is partially because Bott changes her vocal delivery in line with the harsher Mediterranean folk voices - voice that can still be heard today. Her excellent booklet essay tells how these laments made a considerable and moving impression in performance. I might be insensitive but they didn’t move me as much as some of the other songs. Try, for example, the unaffected and gentle rendering of Bedyngham’s ‘O rosa bella’ (often attributed to Dunstable) and Ventadorn’s heartrending lament for lost love ‘Can vei la lauzeta mover’.

Catherine Bott wrote the lively, chatty and very helpful booklet notes. Amidst her useful comments on the music she also writes of the genesis of the project. The biography section tells of a concert they were to do in Spain. It was advertised as ‘Catherine Bott and friends’ and "Somehow the name stuck, and it has the merit of being true". They have performed regularly in Spain and elsewhere ever since.

Bott herself, when writing about the recording venue, exclaims that yes, they have recorded this CD of atmospheric medieval music "in a studio"! She goes on to tell us of the advantages with no "distant roar of a lawn-mower" or an "overhead helicopter". She adds that in the studio "we could clothe our completely straight performances of medieval and renaissance repertoire with the sound of a lovely country church if we wanted, or perhaps a courtly chamber". So this they do right from the start with the 13th Century Prisoner’s Song. For this we are transported to a vast echoey and inhospitable stone cavern to emphasise the writer’s prayer: "only God can bring us out of this" (prison). It’s an effective start to the disc. Bott points out that she has deliberately chosen songs which she especially likes. That must have been difficult given the vast repertoire with which she is familiar.

Some, like the Prisoner’s Song, were recorded thirty or more years ago by a singer I know. Catherine quite admired her and that singer was Jantina Noorman of Musica Reservata fame. Jantina also recorded, memorably I think, the bird song ‘Par maintes foys’. Bott’s approach is much more elegant, clear and focused but perhaps lacks her predecessor’s natural energy.

Apparently it was David Munrow and James Bowman’s recording of Landini’s ‘Giunta vaga bilta’ which helped to inspire her love of medieval music. Perhaps she is too much in awe of that performance as I find her, unusually, a little diffident and bland here.

‘O rosa bella’, once thought to be by Dunstable, comes off beautifully with an easy, natural flow. It’s good to hear ‘Le greygnour bien’ done with the upper voice singing the text. David Munrow also recorded it, but unsuccessfully, for instruments alone. It’s an odd piece really. In her notes Bott describes it as clever, which rhythmically it is, but I am not at all sure that it works. The fiddles on the lower lines struggle to balance adequately and Catherine Bott’s beautiful legato line are at odds with the surrounding texture. I wonder if anyone has tried it as a three part vocal composition?

Talking of instruments, the two gentlemen shine a little on their own. Especially worthy of mention is Ciconia’s ‘Una panthera’, a three part piece which is here performed energetically without the singer ... how, you might ask. By double-tracking, with Levy adding the middle part on a separate track. As Bott says, they were in the studio and they "had the technology". In addition some songs such as Meaux’s attractive ‘Trop est mes maris’ include passages between verses for the fiddles alone.

I should imagine that the three musicians here, especially Bott, are so well known by now in their various fields that anyone, not just early music fiends, will be interested and inquisitive enough to buy it.

I could go on describing the CD for hundreds of more words; time to stop and sum up. The performances, the music, the liner notes, are all outstanding. I enjoyed practically everything that this disc offered with the Dufay being the star. I know of no just cause or impediment why everyone else shouldn’t do so as well.

Gary Higginson



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