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Guillaume Du FAY (c.1397-1474)
Apostolo glorioso [3:23]
Ave maris stella [4:46]
Entre vous, gentils amoureux [3:11]
Je me complains piteusement [2:06]
J'atendray tant qu'il vous playra [1:49]
Mon cuer me fait tous dis penser [5:58]
Flos florum [3:54]
Sanctus Ave verum corpus (Sanctus Papale) [10:07]
Rite majorem Jacobum canamus [4:21]
Permanent vierge (Johannes Ockeghem) [7:37]
Aurea luce et decore roseo [3:43]
Mon doulx espoir (Hugo de Lantins) [5:01]
Malheureulx cueur, que vieulx tu faire? [5:24]
Puisque vous estez campieur [2:58]
Par droit je puis bien complaindre et gemir [4:00]
Ecclesie militantis [5:29]
Blue Heron Renaissance Choir/Scott Metcalfe
Steven Lundahl (slide trumpet; trombone); Mack Ramsey (trombone)
rec. 11-19 September 2006, Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
BLUE HERON BHCD1001 [73:58]

This recording was released in 2007 but seems to have slipped the MWI reviewing net until now. The booklet notes for this release are nicely informative on both Du Fay or Dufay's life and career, as well as on the piece themselves and the various options and theories about the way the might be best performed. All sung texts are printed in their original language and in English translation.

The Blue Heron choir is one with mixed voices, and while the male voices provide a firm foundation it is nice to hear real sopranos able to soar over the lines and harmonies below. This is also a mixed programme, with isorhythmic motets dividing clutches of chansons and hymns. Likewise, full choir and single-voice interpretations, a capella and voices joined by instruments all add to the interest and contrast in this recording.

Just taking one piece, Flos florum, and comparing it with something like the Hilliard Ensemble on their 'Hilliard Live' series shows the wide differences to be heard between various performances. The single-voiced singing of both versions, Hilliard and Blue Heron, is comparable, but the all-male Hilliard Ensemble has its own colour, and in this case an effusive intensity which sounds almost romantic. Blue Heron is cooler but still warmly expressive, the scrunchy impact of the harmonies not quite as direct through the leading voice with accompaniment effect - the Hilliard's voices having a more united feel. Ensemble Musica Nova on the Zig Zag Territories label is somewhere in between, sitting safely in that early music realm of abstractness but portraying the music in an ecclesiastically convincing way, without too much ardent passion.

Personal preference will guide you in this kind of music, and you can do plenty of shopping around. Blue Heron's qualities include transparency of tone without the perception of too much intellectually imposed constraint. In other words, their performances are highly enjoyable. Masterpieces such as Mon cuer me fait tous dis penser have a sense of freedom and airy lightness which is very appealing, with all of those delicious moments savoured without being overly lingered upon. There is a lot of individual colour between the voices in this ensemble, but somehow it all works splendidly. Timbres are allowed to emerge from the music with a natural feel but have also been carefully considered. You don't sense it as effort, but a lot of work has gone into creating these sounds, and I for one feel privileged to be able to revel in such a subtly shaped set of performances.

Collectively this is a very fine programme. The risk with such an endeavour is that things start to sound too much the same from beginning to end, but this is the kind of recording that makes you sit up and pay attention - here from a moment of beautiful stillness, there from some sparing notes from an instrument or a special antiphonal effect - there is plenty that is memorable here, and always the anticipation of something juicy to relish just around the corner. You can't ask much more than that from a CD.

Dominy Clements







 



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