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Jehan de LESCUREL (b. late 13th Century) Songé .I. Songe
Chansons and Dit Enté «Gracïeux temps»
Ensemble Syntagma [Mami Irisawa, Zsuzsanna Thot, Akira Tachilawa, Giovanni Cantarini (singers); Christophe Deslignes (organetto); Atsushi Moriya (recorder); Sophia Danilevski (fiddle); Jérôme Salomon (percussion); Joël Fosse, Emilia Danilevski (narrators)]/Alexandre Danilevski (lute and direction)
rec. Église Sainte Brigitte, Plappeville, France, December 2013. DDD
155p soft-cover book and CD.  Includes texts in Old French with Modern French, English and German translations.  Detailed notes in French and English.

I was very pleased to receive this CD of music by Jehan de Lescurel, particularly as his music and indeed his name was totally unfamiliar to me. Although I am familiar with music earlier than this and also later music by such as Guillaume de Machaut, the interim period leading to Ars Nova is new to me. As I did not immediately have any means of playing the CD I began instead by reading the book in which the CD is enclosed.

The foreword gave a very thorough and informative introduction to the work of Lescurel and a background to the period, but further on I did find this very learned and deeply thought dissertation quite daunting to read and comprehend. I am sure this is partly due to the English translation of Emilia Danilevski’s work, and so I turned to Brian Wilson’s review of this CD which is equally scholarly but much more readable. It gives a good introduction to the period and the concept of Courtly Love, and I think that reading this would be really helpful to the general music lover in his appreciation of what this music and poetry is all about.

Although this CD almost seems to be marketed as a book with a recording, there are unquestionably fine musical performances to be enjoyed. For the general listener and music lover, however, an attractively presented CD with a simple introductory explanation about the history of the period and the music might be more valuable, with the current release as a deluxe version serving the needs of the specialist, the music student and historian. For example, the average music lover might find such statements as “in Lescurel’s work, we find everything imaginable with regard to technical processes and ornatus difficiles: asyndetons, logodaedalia, the last stanza is an epiphonema ............” a bit daunting!

The disc begins with an instrumental version of the chanson Amour, voulés-vous acordez, beautifully and sensitively played by members of Ensemble Syntagma. On the second track we are treated to some pure and ethereal singing from Mami Irisawa, always with perfect intonation even though the melodic intervals can be quite difficult. On the ensuing tracks I was really struck by the sensitivity of the phrasing and the subtle balancing of voices and instruments. There are some ravishing colours and textures here which I had not encountered before. The instrumental additions may not be totally authentic but they certainly add to the colour and attractiveness of the performances. The delicacy of the percussion player Jérôme Salomon is to be admired, too. Listen to Amours, que vous ai meffait for example.

The substantial work on this recording is the dit Gracïeus Temps and one could not wish for a better performance. It is performed in three sections with a charming instrumental item and the chanson, Belle, comme loiaus amans forming interludes. This second piece is beautifully sung, I assume by Zsuzsanna Tóth as her voice has a touch of attractive vibrato not present on some of the other tracks sung by soprano. The dit is superbly performed, and I found listening to the poetry in old French perhaps even more fascinating than Lescurel’s musical lines. I would have liked to have seen the English translation of the text alongside the original, perhaps on the opposite page in the book, to aid clarity, as it is for the chansons. Akira Tachikawa’s counter tenor is another highlight of this disc. He gives meaning and expression to the eloquent poetry and noble thoughts presented on the disc’s final track.

The performances can be quite breath-taking and it was a pleasure to learn something of the refined poetry and music of this period. This is a really valuable and beautifully performed and recorded release.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Previous review: Brian Wilson

When I wrote my original review I said that though there was much for the general listener to enjoy, I imagined that the major appeal would be to specialists in medieval music and poetry.  I certainly didn’t mean to put off non-specialists; in fact I thought that I had conveyed my great enjoyment of this recording.  I did wonder, however, if I had under-estimated the likely appeal to a wider audience.  As I had two copies – having stupidly forgotten that I already had one – I passed the second to Geoffrey Molyneux for some second thoughts. 

As a music graduate and teacher he knows a great deal more than me, as his occasional reviews on the MusicWeb-International main pages and in my Download News testify, but he isn’t the kind of specialist that I was thinking of for this recording.  I asked him particularly to say how much he thought it would appeal to a wider group of listeners and I’m pleased to see that he believes that it would.

Brian Wilson

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