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Canticum Canticorum
Roland de LASSUS (c.1532-1594)
Veni in hortum meum (1562) [3:28]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594)
Osculetur me osculo oris sui (1584) [3:08]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Anima mea liquefacta est (1629) [4:21]
Adjuro vos (1629) [4:26]
Ego dormio (1625) [4:06]
Vulnerasti cor meum (1625) [3:31]
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665)
Dialogo della cantica (1640) [7:01]
Healey WILLAN (1880-1968)
Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One (1928) [1:50]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Set Me as a Seal upon Thine Heart (1938) [3:06]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
My Beloved Spake (1668) [4:49]
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Dilecti mi (n.d.) [4:28]
Pulchra es et decora (c.1687) [3:03]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Passacaille (1692) [6:49]
John DUNSTABLE (c.1390-1453)
Quam pulchra es (n.d.) [2:22]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
My Beloved Spake (c.1677) [10:29]
Les Voix Baroques: Dorothee Mields, Catherine Webster (soprano), Matthew White (countertenor, artistic director), Colin Balzer (tenor), Sunner Thompson (baritone), Robert macdonald (bass); Helen Plouffe, Christina Zacharias (baroque violins), Margaret Little (baroque viola, viola da gamba), Amanda Keesmaat (baroque cello), Matthew Jennejohn, Douglas Kirk (cornets), Maxine Eilander (harp), Stephen Stubbs (lute, baroque guitar), Hank Knox (harpsichord, organ); guest musical director, Stephen Stubbs.
rec. 17-20 March, 2007, Church of St. Augustin de Mirabel, Quebec.
Texts and translations included.
ATMA ACD2 2503 [69:02]
Experience Classicsonline

In the Canterbury Tales, the most cynical of all of Chaucer’s narrators is the Merchant. In the course of his Tale he demonstrates a scorn for pretty well all the values of his age, be they religious, social, moral or aesthetic. At one point the elderly husband January addresses a love lyric to his young bride May, which begins thus:
 
Rys up, my wyf, my love, my lady free!
The turtles voys is herd, my dowve sweete;
The winter is goon with alle his reynes weete.
Come forth now, with thyne eyen columbyn!
How fairer been thy brestes than is wyn!
 
At the end of January’s lyric, the Merchant comments “Swiche olde lewed wordes used he”. The words come, of course, from the Song of Songs and, however grotesque January’s ‘love’ for May might be, the words he employs, while they may be “old” are certainly not merely “lewd”. They are words of marvellous erotic beauty, words that beyond their obvious amorous power have long been interpreted as a metaphorical expression of – amongst other things – the human longing for the divine. This is not the place to attempt discussion of the elaborate interpretations of the Song of Songs produced through generations of Jewish and Christian response to the text. Suffice it to say that, thank goodness, many outstanding composers have not shared the Merchant’s dismissive attitude towards these ‘old’ words. From at least Hildegard of Bingen onwards, composers great – and not so great – have been attracted (or perhaps sometimes commissioned) to set verses from the Song of Songs; leaving aside the composers featured on the present disc, one might add the names of Gioseffo Zarlino (1517-1590), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), Monteverdi, Allegri, and Telemann, or mention such modern works as Flos Campi (1925) by Vaughan Williams and Le Cantique des Cantiques (1952) by Daniel-Lesur. 
 
It isn’t clear who was responsible for putting together the present collection – presumably either Matthew White or Stephen Stubbs. Whoever it was, the selection and programming are excellent. Medieval, Renaissance, baroque and twentieth century settings are juxtaposed in creative (and never more than momentarily jarring) fashion. In addition to the stylistic variety thus created, a variety of sound is also ensured by the use of varying vocal and instrumental combinations. So, for example, we hear the Lassus motet sung by five voices with bass continuo, the motets by Schütz are sung by two tenors, two cornetts and bass continuo, and Palestrina’s motet is sung a capella. The lovely piece by Mazzocchi foregrounds the two sopranos (one heard as ‘echo’ to the other); Charpentier’s ‘Dilecti mi’ is sung by counter tenor, tenor and bass, again with continuo bass. We even get, by way of further variety a rewarding piece by Marais, played by two violins and continuo, which serves as a break from all the heady words which surround it.
 
Healey Willan is represented by two of his Three Motets in Honour of our Lady and are so lovely (even if their harmonic language comes as a bit of shock after Mazzocchi’s ‘Dialogo’ if one listens to the disc straight through) that one regrets the absence of the third. To my surprise I found myself preferring these two pieces even to the excellent setting by Walton which follows immediately on them. In the case of both Willan and Walton it is fascinating to hear the music sung one voice to a part.
 
The motets by Schütz are relatively early works, with many Italianate touches, and are settings of great vivacity and sensuousness. Charpentier’s ‘Pulchra es et decora’, for three treble voices (here the two sopranos and the counter tenor) and continuo bass is quite ravishing, a three minute elaboration on two lines of verse, written for the vespers of the Assumption of the Virgin.
 
It is fascinating to hear and compare the two settings of the Song of Solomon Chapter 2, verses 10-13 and 16 (‘My Beloved Spake’) by Tomkins and Purcell (and, of course, the first of Willan’s two motets incorporates some of the same words, those same words so caustically dismissed by Chaucer’s Merchant). The Purcell makes a magnificent conclusion to the disc.
 
The more, indeed, that one listens to this CD, the more one realises its riches (almost every track could be picked out for individual praise) and how much thought has gone into the planning of it. Throughout the singing and the instrumental work are alike are of a high order. The recorded sound is close and detailed but radiant.
 
Glyn Pursglove
 

 


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