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Argentum et Aurum: Musical Treasures from the Early Habsburg Renaissance
Details at end of review
Ensemble Leones (Els Janssens-Vanmunster (voice), Raitis Grigalis (voice), Baptiste Romain (renaissance violin), Uri Smilansky (viola d’arco), Elizabeth Rumsey (renaissance gamba), Miriam Andersén (Swedish cowhorn), Tobie Miller (symphonie), Liane Ehlich (flute))/Marc Lewon (viola d’arco, cetra and plectrum lute)
rec. Schlosskirche Beuggen, Germany, 9-12 April 2013. DDD
Texts and translations available online.
NAXOS 8.573346 [78:37]

You might think from the title and the cover shot that this recording represented a celebration of the growth of capitalism in the early renaissance. The painting by Quentin Matsys used for the cover certainly depicts a merchant counting his money and jewellery, and is often used to illustrate the growth of the rich merchant class.  In fact the early renaissance, here roughly taken as the fifteenth century, was an age of increasing piety and increasing wealth and secularism. Both aspects are illustrated in this anthology.  The German title of the notes makes this clear: Silber und Gold in musikalischer Münze – silver and gold in musical currency.  For some reason the English translation omits the second part.

The silver and gold referred to in the first piece is actually an extract from the Acts of the Apostles, used as one of the readings for the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. Asked for alms by a poor cripple, Peter replied ‘Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk’.  And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.  And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.  (3, 6-8, King James Version).

That text from Acts is immediately followed by a secular song by the late Minnesinger, Neidhart von Reuental.  Neidhart was somewhat given to melancholy texts, so that it’s not clear whether Riuwental – vale of regret – was his real name or a nickname.  Even the name Nîthart in Middle High German could mean ‘envious heart’.  This appears at first sight to be one of his more cheerful works: entitled Vyol (the violet) the poet bids winter take a holiday but ends with one character cursing both Neidhart’s violet and the summer which it heralded: verflucht sei der summer, / den der Neithart erste fandt! / Nun múß wir leiden kummer; / so der veihel sei geschant! / Nu múg wir nimer springen.

The melancholy Neidhart is more than offset by the works on happy themes.  The watchman of track 2 rebukes the singer for his lack of attention to his soul’s plight – schön und kraft  / muß gar zergan, / by sinnen macht du nit bestan, / der tod der nimptz dahin: beauty and strength assuredly must pass away; your senses will not support you, death takes them away but the Monk of Salzburg sings of the un-monastic pleasure of midday naps frolicking with a maid in the straw (track 3).

Oswald von Wolkenstein, the other Minnesinger represented here, offers a very different outlook on life from Neidhart, extolling the delights of gesangk / und getranck / und sússer winckenwanck, effectively wine, women and song: though I draw a veil over the exact significance of winckenwanck, you can probably guess (track 5).

Throughout the programme the two strands alternate, though you won’t find here any of the ‘jolly japes’ dance music from a slightly later period such as was collected by Arbeau (Orchésographie), Susato (Danserye) or Prætorius (Terpsichore).  For the last two you need to turn to David Munrow and his Early Music Consort on Virgin 3500032, one of the most enjoyable 2-CD bargains in the catalogue.

The programme ends as it began with religious texts.  Paul Hofhaimer’s Gottes namen faren wir (track 27) is a prayer that we may travel in God’s name – surely the optative ‘let us travel’ rather than ‘we travel’, as translated in the online text – and the programme concludes with a song in praise of the Virgin Mary, ‘of noble descent, a rose without thorns’.  Little is known of the composer, who flourished around 1500 and rejoiced simply in the name Pfabinschwanz, Peacock’s Tail.

Ensemble Leones made an earlier recording of the music of Neidhart for Naxos (8.572449).  There are no overlaps with Neidhart’s works on the new recording.  Both Byzantion – review and I – DL Roundup 2011/1 – liked that earlier release.  As before, the present release combines detailed scholarship – all the source MSS are listed in the notes – with very enjoyable performances and the recording is very good.

Ensemble Leones have also made some fine recordings for other labels which I must try to catch up with, including a programme of the music of Oswald von Wolkenstein (Christophorus CHR77379).  The one work common to both that and the Naxos is performed as an instrumental piece on Christophorus, so the overlap is more apparent than real.  There’s also an album of Agricola on Christophorus (CHR77368) and Josquin on CHR77348.  All these can be downloaded from and streamed from Qobuz.  The von Wolkenstein download, like even the CD, does not contain the texts, but these are available online.  Marc Lewon also appears on a Naxos recording of music from the Glogauer Liederbuch which I liked, with small reservations (8.572576 – DL News 2012/23), also on their recording of the Lochamer Liederbuch (8.557803 – review and review).

First, however, I suggest that you start with the new recording before moving on to the earlier Neidhart CD and then the Christophorus albums.  At least the texts for the new Naxos CD, though not included in the booklet, can be found online.

Brian Wilson

Heinrich ISAAC (c.1450-1515) Argentum et aurum * [3:08]
NEIDHART (von Reuental) Vyol: Urlaub hab der wintter [6:35]
Hugo von MONTFORT (1357-1423)
Ich fragt ain wachter (I asked a watchman) [6:13]
Monk of Salzburg (late C14) Das kchúhorn - Untarnslaf   [1:36]
Oswald von WOLKENSTEIN (c1377-1445)
Skak - Frolich geschrai so well wir machen  [1:13]   
Anonymous (late C14)
Soyt tart tempre (Whether early or late) [1:30]          
Or sus vous dormez trop [5:56]          
Durch Barbarei, Arabia (Travelling through Barbary and Arabia) [2:31]
NEIDHART (von Reuental) Der sunnen glanst * [4:43]
Do man den gumpel gampel sank [8:13]
Freu dich, du weltlich creatur [2:16] 
Zergangen ist meins herzen we [4:59]
Anonymous (c.1440) Gegrusset seistu Maria * [5:35]
Hermann EDLERAWER (c.1395-c.1460) Amen * [2:57] 
Von osterreich - Sig, säld und heil * [0:57]
So stee ich hie auff diser erd [0:59]    
Alle dei filius [2:11]
My ladi, my ladi, myn happ * [1:27] 
Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474) Seigneur Leon [1:20]
Gespile, liebe gespile gut [0:47]
Es sassen höld in ainer stuben * [0:51]
Ich sachs ains mals * [1:07]   
Heya, heya nun wie si grollen * [0:55]          
Johannes MARTINI (c.1430/40-1497) La Martinella [2:04]
Pavane [1:29] 
Mantuaner dantz [1:22]                      
Paul HOFHAIMER (1459-1537) Gottes namen faren wir [1:45]
PFABINSCHWANTZ (fl.c.1500) Maria zart, von edler art * [3:08]

* world premiere recordings


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