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Codex Chantilly - Volume II
ANON
Toute clarté [4.30]
Jacques de SENLECHES (fl.c.1385)
Fuions de ci [9.47]
VAILLANT (c.1369-1400)
Dame doucement/Doulz amis [4.24]
SOLAGE (fl.c.1370-90)
En l`amoureux vergier [10.49]
Guillaume de MACHAUT (c.1300-1377)
De petit po [14.37]
GUIDO (fl.c1385-95)
Or voit tout [5.35]
GRIMACE (c.1390)
Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter [7.16]
Magister FRANCISCUS (fl.c.1380-1400)
Phiton, phiton [5:43]
SOLAGE
Tres gentil cuer [4:10]
Ensemble Tetraktys/Kees Boeke
rec. 23-25 January, 2-4 May 2010, Pieve di San Pietro a Presciano - Arezzo
ETCETERA KTC1905 [76.40]

Experience Classicsonline


There have been many recordings of extracts from the famous Chantilly Codex. These late 14th Century ‘ars subtilior’ (the subtle art) pieces have been anthologised, as Gothic Voices tended to do on several discs. On occasion whole recordings have been devoted to the manuscript for example the Ensemble Organum on Harmonia Mundi (HMC 901252 ). That said, to my knowledge this is the first time that a group has decided to devote two consecutive discs to it the first having been recorded in 2007 (KTC 1900). Etcetera intend a total of 15 volumes of the music in the Chantilly Codex.
 
The Codex was discovered c.1895 and edited by the now somewhat controversial Willi Apel and even by Paul Hindemith. They recommended and indeed performed the music with instrumental contributions. That is the procedure adopted here by Tetraktys - which, incidentally is also the name for a Pythagorean triangular figure.
 
When I first heard Solage’s ‘Tres gentil cuer’ I thought that it was the most beautiful performance of the song I had come across. Previously I had only known the a capella version by Gothic Voices (Hyperion CDA66588 or CDH55294) ‘Lancaster and Valois’). The text ‘very noble heart, loving and courteous, beautiful and full of joy’ seems to require gentility and calmness. In typical style their rendition is bright and brisk, perfectly tuned and all over in four minutes. In his booklet notes Page quotes four bars, which he comments create “a wanton minor second that Solage produces by impeccable logic”. Yet the tempo is such that this harmonic effect is quickly glossed and lost. Tetraktys take no less than fifteen minutes over this virelai, lingering over its every detail. Its unbelievable that’s its the same piece. Likewise in Solage’s En L’Amoureux Vergier’ Gothic voices whip through it, this time on a recent CD of Solage not under Page’s direction (Avie 2089 ‘The Unknown Lover’- 2006) in just under five minutes. Tetraktys takes almost eleven but they do include another verse. Gothic Voices, whose approach to this music has always been to eschew any ‘romantic’ views, appear by comparison chaste and expressionless. Mind you Tetraktys can come across as being a little too polite. It’s interesting to compare their performance of Phiton, Phiton with that of David Munrow and the Early Music Consort in the CD set ‘The Art of Courtly Love’ now on Virgin Veritas. In this 1974 recording Martyn Hill is accompanied by two evil sounding crumhorns and this rather aggressive song, aimed at an unknown enemy of Gaston Phebus sounds suitably strong and well directed. Tetraktys with their instrumental combination make the piece rather melancholy and pleading. There are other drawbacks with Tetraktys’s approach, and some of these are frustrating. This comes to a head especially in Fuions de ci by another fascinating figure, Jacques de Senleches. It’s to do with the dreaded subject of melismas - untexted melodic lines.
 
The Medieval ensemble of London when recording this piece (‘Ce Diabolic Chant’ L’Oiseau Lyre 475 9119) opted for three unaccompanied male voices. Here we have a female solo on the upper line with instrumental support - curiously at a slightly faster tempo. When her line runs out of words and flows into a melisma at the end of a phrase a harp takes over the line. In a vocal performance the melismas would have been voiced. They do this quite often and not unreasonably because the melismata are coloured in red in the manuscript. Quite often here they have no reason for doing it other than their own musical whim. That’s fine except that this can give the vocal contribution a somewhat disjointed feel and none more so than with the “conversational” song Dame Doucement/Doulz Amis where the lines of the two singers are broken after just short phrases. This could be what happened in the late 14th Century - we just don’t know - but I have to say that ‘musically’ and to my ears it seems a little dislocated. Eve so there’s no denying that the singing is expressive and the instrumental work delightful. To my mind Philip Pickett’s New London Consort hit upon a happy compromise with the lovely Catherine Bott singing the upper line, melismas and all, but with instrumental accompaniment (Linn CKD 039).
 
With this disc the primary difference lies in styles of performance between British groups and continental ones. Tetraktys (pictured in colour within) go in for often restful and quite slow performances. By contrast Gothic Voices have a much brisker tempo with a clearer emphasis on the text sometimes at the expense of the beauty of the sound. I have to say though that there were times when Zsuzsi Töth and Carlos Mena’s words for Tetraktys became a little indistinct no doubt in the cause of making a rounded and lovely sound. The received wisdom ever since the days of Musica Reservata is that medieval music can be performed with an expressionless tone, which often matches the instrumental sounds. Here, by using harps, vielles and flute, we have an intimate indoor quality in which subtlety and gentility are emphasised. Perhaps they have been looking at Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s masterpiece The Maesta (c.1340) where these exact instruments surround the Virgin and child. There is however, no correct approach. It comes down to personal preference.
 
I should say something more about the music and composers. The manuscript contains about one hundred pieces of mainly French Music from the 1360s. These stretch from Machaut, the spark from which the other composers flared, into the early years of the new century. The music has often proven complex to understand and to perform. I can recall the late Gilbert Reaney, professor of Medieval Music and editor of many manuscripts, telling me in the late 1960s that some of them were probably not even meant for performance. Nowadays we acknowledge that that could not have been the case.
 
The end of the 14th century was a time of great artistic freedom. Composers were testing the boundaries of rhythmic notation and the subdivisions of the beat. In addition, in the hands of Solage for instance, harmony was considered a fair target for experimentation. The aim was to make melody even more expressive. This became a primary goal. In Guido’s Or Voit Tout Machaut is blamed for the complications in the new notation and is described as an ‘imposteur’. The manuscript may have been of Italian provenance. There were composers from Italy working in France at that time and they included Anthonella de Caserta who features on volume 1. One of the great patrons of all of the Arts - but especially of the most ‘avant-garde’ music of the time - was Gaston Phebus Count of Foix, mentioned above. He was also keen on hunting and food. Phebus was praised often by composers from his court. It seems that ‘En L’amoureux vergier’ was written for his wedding in 1389 to Jeanne de Boulogne. S’aincy estoit’ has the line “the good and kind Duke of Berry”.
 
Some of these pieces have two texts running together, a technique in use from the beginning of the so-called Ars nova period. The beautiful song by Grimace is a good example of this.
 
If you are coming to this music for the first time then I would recommend that this disc and volume 1 would be a good place to start. They are not difficult listening unlike the ultimately wonderfully rewarding Medieval Ensemble of London under Peter and Timothy Davies, mentioned above, or indeed the extraordinary CD by the Huelgas Ensemble recorded in 1991 (Febus Avaunt Sony SK48 195). The singing is elegant and the instrumental work delicate and neat. The overall production is colourful, easy to grasp and smartly presented. 

Gary Higginson 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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