The cover of this CD
is a reproduction of a famous page of
the Squarcialupi Codex. It shows the
(to us somewhat more obscure) composer
Francesco Landini (c.1325-1397) wearing
a crown of laurel. It's believed that
this was in celebration of an honour
extended to him by the Venetians in
the 1360s, when he was judged the most
outstanding musician of his age.
Whether or not this illustration
reflects facts, it does attest to Landini's
reputation - as the greatest composer
of the Italian ars nova. In their
new recording, specialists in the field
of mediaeval vocal music, Gothic Voices
pay their own tribute to Landini by
presenting a dozen and a half or so
pieces of his own, surrounded by similar
(and contrasting) music by a couple
of named contemporaries; and half a
dozen anonymous works.
The CD is a delight.
It contains music which is focused;
intimate without being breathily urgent;
lightly melodious and shot through with
clean, expressive singing - and playing
in some numbers by mediaeval harpist,
Gothic Voices have the
gift of being able to bring such music
to life so effortlessly. For example,
Deh, dinmi tu [tr.6] bowls and
springs along almost as though it had
just tumbled from Landini's mind. But
their conception is neither random nor
cursory: immediately afterwards they
concentrate all the intensity and pain
of a longing lover into under two minutes
in De sospirar sovente [tr.7].
To look at the text of
the piece - all texts in Italian and
English are included in the well-written
booklet - is to see why it works as
well as it does. The words are restless
and searching and that is just how Gothic
Voices has approached this performance.
The text, the expression of the sentiments
to which Landini and his contemporaries
were responding in their music, are
primary. So Gothic Voices make every
word audible. They do this undeliberately.
Yet with a kind of 'group authority'
that only arises out of great familiarity
with the idiom and the intentions of
So the pieces, which
either begin in monody or are either
entirely unharmonised (such as Ave
Maria, stella Diana [tr.9]) sound
unforced, linear - calm, almost. This
approach very persuasively leads us
into Landini's world, where listeners'
focus must have been as much on the
words and melody as on the performers'
filters through which they were first
heard; however great was Landini's reputation.
Perhaps by allowing touches of spontaneity
and freedom in rhythm and vocal texture
to remain, Gothic Voices have captured
very effectively the rough edges of
fourteenth century Italy without making
the articulation sound crude or unpolished.
It's the vigour, the
at times relentless striving inherent
in sexual love, and the love of a God,
which strike us. But not such longings
as those experienced by madrigalists
two hundred years later, which almost
strike us as allusions. The singers
of Gothic Voices have entered sufficiently
far into the world of Landini and his
contemporaries to make these short,
incisive compositions very real. Pain
not ache: listen to the counterpoint
in Così pensoso [tr.13],
for example. Not meandering. Nor pat
summary. Nor yet breaking off in the
midst of the suffering. Still less a
therapeutic outpouring. These works
are conceived as a distillation of common
experience - expressed with great openness
and a certain detachment borne of the
technical (musical) skill of the composer
communicating directly with musicians
who possess such skills in our time.
Here there is no indulgence to the feelings.
This is nowhere better exemplified than
in the vigour of Musica son [tr.15].
It's brief, pointed and without a spare
note. We are left wanting more.
This is an exciting,
profound and excellently executed CD.
All lovers of 'early' vocal music in
general and of ars nova and/or
Gothic Voices' extensive and outstanding
recorded repertoire will want to look
closely at it. Those new to the period
and style will be struck by the purity
and persuasion of the performances:
the music as performed here has an appeal
of its own right such that repeated
listening will neither tire nor puzzle.The
recording is clean and present. The
choice of music to illustrate their
theme both persuasive and enjoyable
in its own right. As an introduction
to Landini and his genre or as just
over an hour of continuous pleasure,
'A Laurel for Landini' could
well find its way onto gift lists for
the upcoming holidays.