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A Marriage of England and Burgundy
Walter FRYE (?) (d.1475)
Missa Sine nomine
Antoine BUSNOIS (c.1430-1492)
Regina cæli I [6:17]

Regina cæli II [3:26]
Walter FRYE
Missa Summe Trinitati

Antoine BUSNOIS (?)
O pulcherrima mulierum/Girum cæli circuivi [
7:11]
Incomprehensibilia firme/Præter rerum ordinem [7:38]
The Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman
rec. St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, UK, 10-12 August 1999 and 12 January 2001. DDD
Booklet with texts and translations
HYPERION CDA67129 [74:48] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


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.

Brian Wilson

 


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