was originally issued on Erato 0630-17072-2 in 1997. By the
time I heard a friend’s copy and fell in love with it, it
was unobtainable. I am, therefore, delighted to welcome it
back into circulation, especially at Apex price.
is utterly at home in this repertoire. Indeed, the CD booklet
tells us that she “conceived and directed” the entire programme,
and that she was responsible for the “research, transcriptions
and editions of [the] original source material” though others
were responsible for instrumental realisations. Azema’s booklet
notes make clear her knowledge and understanding in this field,
and she has the musical and vocal skill necessary to create
from that knowledge a gorgeous experience for the listener.
programme draws on compositions by the trouvères of Northern France.
The few - relatively - familiar names – such as Adam de la
Halle and Thibault de Champagne - are here, but much of what
is on offer cannot be attributed to named composers. Azema’s
programming and performance - very ably assisted by instrumentalists
largely drawn from the ranks of the Boston Camerata - puts
before the hearer a range of mood which may be surprising
to those conditioned to think of medieval love poetry as limited
to expressing the lover’s pain and frustration.
the lover in the anonymous (and lovely) ‘L’on dit qu’amors
est douce chose’ declares:-
They say that love is a sweet thing
but I do not know its sweetness.
All joy is refused me from there
and never did I feel any of its rewards
are also songs of feast and dance, as in Guillaume le Vinier’s
When the harvest
is all brought in
the shepherds grill their meat,
the young girls are dressed in their best
and the young dandies enter the dance …
and of female
desire, (as in the anonymous motet ‘Prendés i garde’:
I am a bold lass,
I indeed avow,
I cannot prevent myself
from looking around,
for one is looking at me,
and I am most desirous
that he should have me with him…
and of less
than ‘courtly’ male behaviour (again from Guillaume le Vinier’s
The son of the priest of Oignies,
who has sweet-talked so many
that he is engaged to five,
three of whom he has got pregnant
was absolutely amazed by Guionet: he was seized
by jealousy; so he got up to a lot of tomfoolery:
he began to do handsprings,
with a crown of nettles on his head.
‘game of love’ took many forms!
songs of the trouvères come down to us without clear rhythmic
notation; nor can we be certain of what – if any – instruments
were used in the accompaniment of any particular song. Suffice
to say that the solutions reached here are thoroughly persuasive
and make for richly entertaining listening; whether they are
‘correct’ is a different question which can’t sensibly be
posed here. Azema is a performer of great spirit and drama
– always appropriately. Whether singing unaccompanied or supported
by various combinations of flute, recorder, vielle and rebec
she communicates mood and meaning to perfection. Her diction
is a model of clarity, her commitment never in doubt. She
responds intelligently and flexibly to the different idioms
and forms on show here – virelai, rondeau or pastourelle.
group of trouvères centred on Arras, which included Adam de
la Halle, Moniot d’Arras and Guillaume le Vinier – is well
represented, but the most remarkable piece here is the well-known
‘Lai de Kievrefuel’. This ‘Lay of the Honeysuckle’, traditionally
attributed to no-less than Tristan himself, is here given
a remarkable performance, Azema’s passionate interpretation
following a lengthy and beautiful instrumental introduction.
in truth, all the tracks on this CD are performances rich
in musicality and intelligence. Full texts and translations
are provided and I recommend it unreservedly.