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CD: Crotchet


A Chantar - Songs of Women in the Middle Ages
Walther von de VOGELWEIDE (c.1170-1230)
Under de linden
Oswald von WOLKENSTEIN (1377-1445)
Los freouw und hor
Martim CODAX (13th century)
Ondas do mar
[4.06]; Mia yrmana fremos [4.22]
Beatriz de DIA (12th century)
A Chantar
Thibault de NAVARRA (1201-1253)
Dame merci
Audefroi li BASTARS (12th Cent)
Bele Ysabiauz
Guillaume de MACHAUT (c.1300-1377)
Lasse, comme oublieray
; Moult sui de bonne heure nee
ANON - Carmina Burana (c.1230)
Ich was ein chint so wortgetan
; [4.04] La tierce Estampie royale; [3.38] Istampitta Isabella; [6.52] Por coi me bait mes maris [2.40]
Estampie (Sigrid Hausen; Michael Popp; Ernst Schwindl)
rec. Lukas-Kirche, Freiburg, 24-26 March 1989
Experience Classicsonline

You might have thought that in the Middle Ages there were no or few female composers. You would be wrong. Several names have come down to us and on another CD - Chansons de Trobairitz recorded by Hesperion XX in 1978 - poetry by several women from the 12th and 13th centuries is made available to us but with anonymous tunes or melodies by male troubadours and trouvères. The reason is that only one song with its original melody has survived by a woman from this period. That song is given on the present CD in a passionate performance by Sigrid Hausen. It is entitled ‘A Chantar’ and it’s by the remarkable Countess Beatriz de Dia and it gives this CD its title. The abovementioned Hesperion XX CD by the way (Virgin Classics 5613102) includes a much longer version of the song with Montserrat Figueras also in terrific form.
I have known this Christophorus CD since it first came out circa 1990. I wasn’t then quite so taken with it. I suppose that I had come under the spell of Christopher Page’s then new and revolutionary book ‘Voices and Instruments in the Middle Ages’ (J.M. Dent, London 1987) in which he asserts a somewhat more restricted use of instruments in the 12th Century and 13th Century than had hitherto been the case in recordings and performances in the 1980s and earlier. His arguments seemed reasonable then and to a certain extent still do. Yet what this CD shows is the colour, the joy, the fun and sometimes the sheer visceral excitement that lies embedded between the almost indecipherably written notes. For that reason especially I have returned to this recording with considerable pleasure.
There have been some changes of presentation - mostly for the best, I think. We had a jewel case before with booklet enclosed. Now it’s a cardboard casing with the booklet neatly pinned in. The original contained some attractive pictures of instruments. They have now been discarded. The texts are still given; but there are no translations, just text résumés. Composers’ dates, as far known are now given and the interesting introductory essay and composer biographies by director Ernst Schwindl have been retained. The original colour photo of the three performers has gone in favour of a weary looking black and white job of the five performers who make up the present ensemble. This larger group have incidentally recently recorded for Naxos.
The enjoyment I have gained from this disc on re-acquaintance is nowhere more noticeable than in ‘Bele Ysabianz’ by the unknown Audefroi li Bastars. This song is nine stanzas long. Estampie take it at a lively tempo. As an introduction, between some of the verses as well as at the end, we have instrumental improvisations using the main melody. Equally exhilarating is Estampie’s rendering of the ‘Istampitta Isabella’. Again it is very lively, and they treat it like a medieval ‘jamming session’ as David Munro used to do on occasion. I even detect some vocalisation of the tune over the top of the instruments towards the end.
Despite the disc’s title not everything is totally female-orientated. There is for example a dialogue song by Thibault de Navarra, the most prolific of troubadour composers. If you are familiar with the book ‘The Art of Courtly Love’ by Andreas Capellanus (c.1170) then the arguments behind the piece will be known to you. Is there love after death? And is it acceptable to a man to have two lovers; if so which will be with him in paradise?
I’ve always been quite moved by the six songs which make up a little cycle of songs by the Portuguese composer Martim Codax. They have been recorded many times and two are most expressively performed by Sigrid Hausen - who also goes under the name of Syrah. The girl’s lover sails away out of the town of Vigo never to be seen again. If you go to Vigo now, as I did last year with these songs on my mind, you will be bitterly disappointed by its modern industrialization.
As I have indicated, this CD, especially from the point of view of its instrumental work, is a joyous and happy experience. Amongst the instruments listed are the hurdy-gurdy, the portative organ and all sorts of percussion including bells. The disc is well worth searching out despite the fact that the repertoire is mostly available on other anthologies.
Gary Higginson


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