The Service of Venus and Mars: Music for the Knights of the Garter
Philippe de VITRY (1291-1361) Gratissima virginis/Vos qui admiramini/Gaude gloriosa/Contratenor [2:38]
ANONYMOUS Singularis laudis digna [5:01]
P. des MOLINS (fl. 1350) De ce que fol pense [1:33]
ANONYMOUS (after Molins) De ce que fol pense [2:44]
ANONYMOUS Lullay, lullay [4:10]
PYCARD (fl. c.1410) Gloria [3:50]
ANONYMOUS Ther is no rose of swych virtu [3:51]
Leonel POWER (d. 1445) Sanctus [3:14]
Franchois LEBERTOUL (fl. 1409-?1428) Las, que me demanderoye [2:35]
ANONYMOUS Le gay playsir [1:18]
ANONYMOUS Le grant pleyser [1:18]
John PYAMOUR (fl. c.1418; died before March 1426) Quam pulchra es [3:24]
John DUNSTABLE (c.1390-1453) Speciosa facta es [2:06]
SOURSBY (fl. c.1430-1460) Sanctus [5:19]
Richard LOQUEVILLE Je vous pri que j’aye un baysier [1:34]
ANONYMOUS The Agincourt Carol [3:56]
Gothic Voices/Christopher Page
Andrew Lawrence-King (medieval harp)
rec. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London, 30 September and 1 October, 1986. DDD

There is nothing new about this recording - now almost a quarter of a century old. But its freshness and vitality make it as enjoyable as ever.

The disc’s subtitle, Music for the Knights of the Garter, 1340-1440, is rather misleading. One expects a volume of musical works composed specifically for meetings of the august aristocratic club, founded by Edward III in 1348. Instead, it is a mixed collection of vocal and instrumental pieces possibly heard at the households of various noble members of the knighthood, ranging from Edward III himself, to his great grandson Henry V.

But no matter. The music itself is beautiful and exceptionally well performed. The vocal tracks are divided into secular and church works by mainly French and English composers, and these are interspersed with tunes played on medieval harp by Andrew Lawrence-King. Several pieces are devoted to the then-fashionable veneration of the Virgin Mary (Philippe De Vitry’s ‘Gratissima virginis’ on track 1), while others present extracts from the mass. But their yearning intensity bear strong resemblances to the secular works in the tradition of courtly love, such as the charming but anonymous ‘Ther is no rose of swych virtu’ (track 7). Many of these are strongly reminiscent of some of the tracks on Gothic Voices’ disc of music from the late fourteenth century, The Castle of Fair Welcome (also available on Helios). The quality of music on that disc is probably superior, although The Service of Venus and Mars has the edge in terms of variety.

Gothic Voices under their director Christopher Page are excellent. The warmth and humility in their voices turn what could have been a dryly academic disc into something much more relevant and alive. Margaret Philpot’s solo contralto voice in the traditional ‘Lullay, lullay’ (track 5) is particularly affecting. The recorded sound, too, is intimate and clear. As well as interesting notes, Helios have included full texts and translations, making this a real value-for-money disc.

John-Pierre Joyce