This is another splendid Hyperion recording which, sadly, finds
itself through no fault of its own in need of your care and attention,
since it was recently one of the please, someone buy me ...
CDs which are reported by the company as not having had sales
for quite some time. When it was first released, Peter Grahame
Woolf enjoyed and recommended it – see review
– but David Wright, in an addendum to that review, felt that it
was of interest only for historical purposes. It appears that
he was all too right and that too few prospective purchasers have
had an interest in those historical aspects.
Let me deal with those historical details first.
The marriage of the title took place in 1468 between Charles
the Bold, newly created Duke of Burgundy, and Margaret of York,
sister of the Yorkist King Edward IV. The court of Burgundy
rivalled those of France and England in its opulence, but this
marriage was extravagant even by Burgundian standards.
The marriage clearly involved music, but we don’t
know what it was. The title, therefore, is really a convenient
peg on which to hang an hour and a quarter of the music of two
pre-eminent musicians of the time, one English and one Burgundian,
contained in a 15th-century Burgundian manuscript,
Brussels Koninklijke Bibliotheek 5557. The K of the opening
Kyrie of the second Mass in this collection is illuminated
with the Burgundian fusil, or flint and steel, and the
white rose of the House of York; juxtaposed with it is the head
of a young woman, probably that of Margaret herself. It might
have been more historically interesting to have employed this
illuminated capital for the cover instead of the almost monochrome
(much faded?) illustration from a Bodleian MS of Margaret of
York at prayer, watched by a young nobleman, tentatively identified
with Charles the Bold.
Two of the works contained in the Brussels MS are Walter Frye’s Missa
Summe trinitati, for Trinity Sunday but associated in English
usage with royal weddings, and an anonymous Missa Sine nomine,
very plausibly identified by conductor Andrew Kirkman as probably
the work of Frye. Whoever its composer may be, it is certainly
in the English style of the period, as distinctive in its own
way as vestments and hangings in the opus anglicanum
manner. More importantly, it’s also a fine setting, well worth
hearing and of much more than historical interest, especially
when it’s performed as well as it is here.
Missa Summe trinitati, more firmly ascribed
to Frye, is just as fine a work, as are the two versions of
Regina cæli definitely by his Burgundian
contemporary, Antoine Busnois, also from the Brussels MS, and the two anonymous pieces which end the CD,
also conjecturally but plausibly attributed to Busnois on stylistic
grounds, though not contained in the Brussels MS.
The singing throughout is excellent. My only complaint
concerns the decision to pronounce the ‘u’ in Credo in unum
deum, etc., in the French manner. This may well be historically
correct for music sung at the Burgundian court but I find it
slightly jarring when the music was the work of an English composer.
That I can find only such a small matter to comment on shows
how very good the performances are.
With excellent recording and the usual high standard
of Hyperion notes, this recording should still be selling like
hot cakes. It’s a disgrace to find it neglected. It won’t be
on offer at half price when you come to read this review, of
course, but it’s still highly recommendable at full price, especially
when there’s so little of Frye’s music in the current catalogue.
Please don’t let it languish unloved.
There are just two discs devoted entirely to Walter
Frye, ECM 437 6842, a recording by the Hilliard Ensemble, to
which I can give a strong personal recommendation, and Signum
SIGCD015, a recording by the Clerks Group which involves the
duplication of Missa Sine nomine. At budget price there’s
also The Gothic Voices’ The Castle of Fair Welcome (Hyperion
Helios CDH55274) which contains Frye’s So es emprentyd
and music attributed to Charles the Bold, no less – Bargain
of the Month: see review.
A Marriage of England and Burgundy was, I believe, the first
recording of the Binchois Consort for Hyperion and it was immediately
acclaimed. Since then they have given us Josquin and his Contemporaries
(CDA67183) and equally fine recordings of music by Busnois (his
L’homme armé Mass) and Domarto (recently reissued on the
budget label Helios, CDH55288 – see Gary Higginson’s review
and my review),
Dufay (Mass for St Anthony Abbot, CDA67474 – see review;
Puisque je vis, CDA67368; Music for St Anthony of Padua,
CDH55271 – see review;
Music for St James the Greater, CDH55272). Most recently
I reviewed their recording of music for the court of Savoy (CDA67715
– see Mark Sealey’s review
and my review).
The three Helios reissues are unbelievably inexpensive; they and
all these Binchois Consort recordings come with exalted credentials.