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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

The Voice in the Garden - Spanish Songs and Motets 1480-1550
Juan del ENCINA (1468–1529/30)
Mi libertad en sosiego
A la villa voy
(3); Passe el agoa (1); Harto tanta porfia (1)
Luys de NARVAES (fl.1529–1549)
Fantasi (Tercer tono)
Fransisco de PENALOSA (c1470–1528)
Por las sierras de Madrid
(1); Ne reminiscaris, Domine (1)
ANONYMOUS Dindirin, dindirin (1)
Luys de NARVAES (fl.1529–1549)
Fantasia (Segundo tono)
ANONYMOUS Ave Virgo gratia plena (1)
Gabriel Mena de TEXERANA (d.1528)
Yo creo que n’os dio Dios
Luys MILAN (c.1500–after 1560)
Fantasia 10 (
Fransisco de PENALOSA (c1470–1528)
Precor te, Domine
Julio da MODENA (1498-1561)
Juan del ENCINA (1468–1529/30)
Los sospiros no sosiegan
Luys de NARVAES (fl.1529–1549)
Paseavase el rey moro
ENRIQUE (d.1488)
Mi querer tanto vos quiere
Luys MILAN (c.1500–after 1560)
Fantasia 18
ANONYMOUS Dentro en el vergel morire (1)
ANONYMOUS Entra Mayo y sale Abril (1)
Luys MILAN (c.1500–after 1560)
Fantasia 12
Gabriel Mena de TEXERANA (d.1528)
La bella malmaridada
Fransisco de PENALOSA (c.1470–1528)
Sancta Maria
Christopher Wilson (vihuela) (2)
Andrew Lawrence-King (medieval harp) (3)
Gothic Voices (1)/Chrisopher Page
rec. Boxgrove Priory, Chichester, 16-19 April 1993
Experience Classicsonline

Depending on your point of view, you will either find this CD invigorating or uncompromising - or both. From the opening notes, it is clear that we are in for a fascinating recital. The group has a direct, open sound reminiscent of Musica Reservata. The music is presented without any soft edges. Not everyone will like this, but even fifteen years after the CD’s first release it makes a refreshing change.
It is not just the group’s delivery which fits into this refreshing/uncompromising category. Director Christopher Page has decided to present all of the secular vocal music unaccompanied. Andrew Lawrence-King (harp) and Christopher Wilson (vihuela) are heard only in solo instrumental movements. Gothic Voices - in the form of Evelyn Tubb, Margaret Philpot,  Rogers Covey-Crump, Andrew Tusa, Julian Podger, Leigh Nixon, Donald Greig, Stephen Charlesworth - sing everything without instrumental accompaniment.
Page’s argument is that much of the 15th century repertoire is presented in highly speculative versions and that it is about time we heard the music with voices alone. This works very well and you never feel that there is something missing. It also means that the secular pieces lack that rather generic up-tempo instrumental and percussion beat which can become too common in this repertoire; catchy certainly, but inhibiting also. Here the music is presented on its own, and the voices never feel unsupported. Page’s singers confidently present us with a stimulating new perspective on old material.
Singing the secular items unaccompanied enables Page to create a recital based on both secular and sacred items without any awkward joins. Instead we get a fascinatingly seamless narrative where prayers to the Virgin Mary run cheek by jowl with love songs.
Much of the material on the disc is anonymous. Many of the secular items come from surviving song-books, often created for Royal or noble personnel. We do know some names. Penalosa, who created both secular and sacred pieces, was a member of the Royal Chapel. Juan del Encina trained in the household of the Duke of Salamanca and wrote two of the striking numbers on the disc: Mi libertad en sosiego and Los sospiros no sosiegan.
Of the 23 items on the disc, eight are instrumental played either by Christopher Wilson or Andrew Lawrence King.
This is one of those recitals which does not attempt to manipulate the material to suit modern ideas of performance practice and recital technique. Instead we are introduced to a remarkable new world. Here the sounds are fascinating and different and sacred and secular rub shoulders in a manner which is probably very medieval. The pronunciation used is period as well, with both the sacred and secular pieces sounding remarkably exotic.
You could probably argue, however, that Page’s aesthetic is just as modern as the voice and instrument arrangements of this repertoire. But the virtue of this disc is that it does not take the easy option, the songs are performed here in vivid and vital performances which are not always immediately graceful or easy on the ear. Too often songs from this period can turn into a high class version of easy listening. Page and his Gothic Voices make us listen again and re-tune our ears.
Robert Hugill

see also review by Brian Wilson



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