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Gothic Voices

A Feather on the Breath of God
Columba aspexit [5:18]
Ave, generosa [4:36]
O ignis spiritus [4:48]
O Ierusalem [8:02]
O Euchari [5:43]
O viridissima virga [3:13]
O presul vere civitatis [6:12]
O Ecclesia [6:11]

The Service of Venus and Mars - Music for the Knights of the Garter 1340-1440
Philippe DE VITRY
Gratissima virginis [2:38]
Singularis laudis digna
Do ce quo fol pense
Do ce quo fol pense
LulIay, lulIay [4:10]
Ther is no rose of swych virtu
Leonel POWER
Sanctus [3:14]
Las, quo me demanderoye
Le gay playsir
Le grant Pleyser [1:18]
Quam pulchra es [3:24]
Speciosa facta es [2:06]
Speciosa facta es
Je vous pri quo j’aye un baysier
The Agincourt Carol

A Song for Francesca - Music in Italy 1330-1430
Astio non mori mai

Per la ver’onestà [4:35]
Quando i oselli canta

Constantia [3:04]
Quando la stella [3:15]
Amor mi fa cantar a Ia Francesca

Non na el so amante

Francesco LANDINI
Ochi dolenti mie

Per seguir la sperança [3:38]
O regina seculi / Reparatrix
Maria [2:28]
Guillaume DUFAY
Quel fronte signorille in paradiso

Puisque je suy amoureux

Pour mesdisans ne pour leur faulx parler [1:52]
Plaindre m’estuet

Je demande ma bienvenue
Confort d’amours
Qui ne veroit que vos deulx yeulx [1:12]

Estienne GROSSIN
Va t’ent souspir
Emma Kirkby (soprano); Emily van Evera (soprano); Poppy Holden (soprano); Judith Stell (soprano); Margaret Philpot (contralto); Caroline Trevor (alto); Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor); John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Leigh Nixon (tenor); Andrew Parrott (tenor); Kevin Breen (tenor); Howard Milner (tenor); Peter Harvey (baritone); Colin Mason (baritone); Andrew Lawrence-King (medieval harp); Doreen Muskett (symphony); Robert White (reed drones); Christopher Page (director/medieval harp)
rec. Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London, 14 September 1981 (disc 1), 30 September, 1 October 1986 (disc 2); 26, 29 September 1987 (disc 3). DDD
Originally issued on CDA66039 (disc 1), CDA66238 (disc 2) and CDA66286 (disc 3)
HYPERION CDS44251/3 [3CDs: 44:12 + 48:36 + 53:36]


This boxed set of three discs from Hyperion featuring Gothic Voices, directed by Christopher Page, makes an excellent addition to the collection of any mediaeval music enthusiast. The presentation is extremely attractive, as one would expect, the works are intriguing, the sound super, and performances exemplary.

The first disc is entitled “A feather on the breath of God” – a seemingly apt description Hildegard of Bingen gave herself. Apparently divinely inspired - she had a vision of flames descending upon her from heaven - she produced an incredible corpus of works, ranging from poetry and plays through to academic works on natural history and medicine, and music. Not only was she prolific, but her works were composed on a grand scale, as evidenced by some of the songs that feature on this disc, particularly the Sequences, which are interspersed with hymns. Intricate religious imagery, rich and vibrant descriptions and imaginative tableaux are presented through music that is at once simple yet burns with intensity. The sumptuousness of the depictions and vividness of the stories make for a curious contrast against the purity of the plainchant line and occasional droning accompaniment.

I was much impressed by the performance approach here. As mentioned in the sleeve-notes, the performers have attempted to recreate the notion of singing almost as an act of meditation, as a devotion into which body, mind and soul are plunged, allowing the music effectively to sing itself through the performers. It works to spine-tingling effect.

The second disc, “The Service of Venus and Mars”, contains works which might have been heard by Knights of the Garter. This was the great Order established by Edward III in a possible attempt to recreate King Arthur’s Round Table, and immortalised by the tale of the gallant king chastising sniggering courtiers with the famous phrase “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, when his dancing partner’s garter fell to floor and he chivalrously picked the item up and put it on his own leg. Although most of the courtly music and songs from this period has been lost, some of the existent works can be linked to several Knights, and this disc has been programmed around that idea. We open, therefore, with Edward III himself, with the second track, Singularis laudis digna, lauding the king by name, while the French works - Philippe de Vitry’s Gratissima virginis, Molins’s Do ce quo fol pense, and the anonymous work based on the previous piece - might have been played to King John II of France, Edward’s hostage - particularly Molins’s, given that he was a chaplain of John’s during his captivity. Several of the pieces on the disc were written by composers known to have worked for some of the Knights – Pycard (Gloria), for example, was a clerk in the chapel of the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt; Leonel Power (the dignified Sanctus) was the chaplain and chorister director in Thomas, Duke of Clarence’s chapel; John Pyamour (Quam pulchra est) was a member of the Chapel Royal. The celebrated composer Dunstable (Speciosa facta es) composed for Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Soursby - who composed another Speciosa facta es - was chaplain to Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. The programmers also include a few carols – Lullay, Lullay and Ther is no rose of swych virtu, and some instrumental works. The graceful and gently lilting Le Grant Pleyser, is for example, the kind of work that Henry V might have played on the harp that we know he owned and presume he played. This song is an English version of the slightly more stately and less dancing previous track, the French Le Gay Plaisir - intriguing to compare the two! The disc concludes with a joyful and bold rendition of the famous Agincourt Carol – an appropriate work on which to end with its strong Henry V association! This second disc presents some fine and accomplished pieces, all superbly performed, with perfect intonation and flawless ensemble singing.

The final disc, “A Song for Francesca” presents a century of musical composition from 1330 onwards. The works come from Italy - first part of the disc - and from the Northern European composers with whom Italians were, at that time, fascinated, despite their own flourishing musical tradition (track 10 onwards). Named after the track Amor mi fa cantar a la Francesca, which has the double translation of “Love makes me sing to Francesca” and “Love makes me sing in the French style” (as the scholarly sleeve notes explain), the disc includes a wide range of styles and forms. It opens with two polyphonic ballata by the less-well-known Florentine composer and organist, Andreas de Florentia – Astio non mori mai and the evocative Per la ver’onestà.  Two more from the better known Francesco Landini follow later - the hauntingly melancholic Ochi dolenti mie and Per seguir la sperança. The eponymous and anonymous Amor mi fa cantar a la Francesca is included as an example of monophonic ballata - probably popular music of the educated classes. This extremely attractive song is exquisitely performed by Rogers Covey-Crump. The disc also includes polyphonic madrigals, such as Quando i oselli canta and Johannes de Florentia’s Quando la stella, utterly charming pieces for the harp (Constantia and Non na el so amante), and an ethereal Latin motet to the Virgin, O regina seculi/Reparatrix Maria, which has an amazing feeling of timelessness and space, with its long, floating voicelines. It is so accomplished that Christopher Page in his sleeve-notes asks whether it might be an anonymous work by Dufay. Most of the second half of the disc is taken up by rondeaux, the most popular song-form of the 15th century, not least the intriguing Confort d’amours, with its experimental rhythms and chromaticisms.

With performers including Rogers Covey-Crump, Emma Kirkby, John Mark Ainsley and Andrew Lawrence-King, it comes as no surprise that the music-making on these discs is of the very highest standard, and the singing in particular, is superlative. The works themselves cover a varied range of styles, all full of interest, and even include some premiere recordings - of Hildegard of Bingen Sequences and some of the Knights of the Garter songs. Only too rightly have these discs all won Gramophone awards – and I join my voice to those others who have commended them highly.

Em Marshall


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