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Forgotten Provence
Martin Best Consort
rec. 1994, Concert Hall of Nimbus Foundation, UK
NIMBUS NI5445 [64.19]

The area known as Provence is in South Eastern France bordering on Italy. In the middle ages and even into recent times the language was the curious ‘langue d’oc’. This was the language of the many named Troubadours, men like Guiraut de Bornelh who has left us no less than 76 songs and was called the ‘maestre dels trobadors’ his wonderful ‘alba’ or dawn song Reis glorios ends the CD. These were the men who dared not to write in Latin but in their own mother tongue.

However twenty years ago whilst touring the area looking at the Romanesque churches my wife and I were in the mountainous region called Le Collet, a scattering of houses in a remote area. We had lost our way but we heard an elderly man singing to a guitar. I speak French quite fluently but I could make out few words. On asking the way he answered in what I thought was such a difficult dialect that we had to communicate via sign language. I later discovered that he was using a through-back variant of the ‘langue d’oc’. A real time machine had passed before us as though I had met Bornelh’s grandfather of over twenty generations ago.

This CD takes us on a journey, as Martin Best describes it, through music from the mid-12th to the mid 16th Century not in any particular order, unless you programme the tracks chronologically but in a sequence, which enables variety and diversity. Sadly the original texts, in this mysterious language are not offered but they are given in clear translations with a fascinating essay by Best which makes you want to listen all the more to his choice of music.

For this recording, made some dozen years after Best first explored this repertoire with Nimbus he was able to use a significantly augmented set of singers male and female and instrumentalists, as can be seen above. You will also notice in the track listing below how the music is divided into eight sections. This he had done before but the divisions here are more detailed and contrasted. He also included traditional melodies from Provence, the sort that could have inspired Bizet seven hundred years later.

There are several traditional Provencal songs included. So to give an example of his approach the first section ‘Women and Men’ Best employs three folk-like songs with a simple repetitive melody suitable for dancing, a serious ‘canso’ by the only known Trobaritz who has left us a melody, that is Beatrice de Dia and then a pastoral probably by her contemporary Marcabru. In this latter song the man says to his lady that ‘I am beguiled not by flowers but my your heart’. But the opening song is rather less courtly because in Ne l’oseray-je the servant sleeps with his mistress.!

There are also sacred works performed very evocatively, especially the chants from St. Martial, Lauda, Jocunda and the Sequence for Epiphany Epiphanium Domino both sung by the men. The women and men are divided in the motets Pucelete-je languis-Domine and then in the Alle Psallete. Both pieces are often recorded but here we hear each one three times, first the women then the men sing, then tutti - all very effective.

Martin Best sings fewer solo numbers than on other recordings but he does tackle Rudel’s melismatic and extended Lancan li jorn with great intensity. Especial mention though goes to two other soloists, Kim Porter and Libby Crabtree the latter being especially memorable in the delicious Rossingnolet du bois. The season of May bringing with it romance and love, bird song and the delights of the natural world all of which are reflected, as so often in many of these songs, such as A ‘lentrada dei tens clar. Perhaps suitably, they are usually in the form carols or round dances.
Altogether then a very happy and enjoyable recording and a memorable hour can be whiled away in the company of the music and the delightful performances found on this haunting disc.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Women and Men
Ne l’oserary-je/Voulez-vouz que je vous dise?
Dessus la rive: from Les Airs de Cerveau, carole in ballade form (c.1550) [2:26]
Beatriz de Dia (b. c.1140) A chanter m’er: Canso (c.1200) [4:31]
Vecy le mai: Carole in rondeau form (c.1550) [3:39]
Ma charmante cadet: Traditional pastorela, Limousin [1:56]
Sequence in Free Organum

Alleluia Justus: School of St. Martial, Limoges (12th Century) [2:49]
Troubadours and Dances

A l’entrada del tens clar: dance-song in carole form (12th Century) [2:15]
Li gelos: Anonymous troubadour dance-song [1:19]
Air de Cheval-Jupon: Traditional Languedoc dance (instrumental) [1:34]
Jaufre Rudel de Blaye (d.c.1160) Lancan li jorn: Canso [7:24]
Ara Lauzatz: Anonymous troubadour vers (12th Century) [2:04]
Sequence to St. Peter and St. Paul

Laude Jocunda: School of St. Martial, Limoges (12th Century) [2:09]
Motets at Montpellier

Pucelete - Je languis - Domino (c. 1250) [3:10]
Petrus de Cruce (d.c.1300) Aucun ont trouvé - Lonc tans - Annuntiantes [4:09]
Alle Psallite cum luya (c. 1250) [1:57]

Rossignolet du bois: Carole in Ballade form (1st half of the 16th Century) [3:14]
Rossignolet du bois: Traditional, Bas-Languedoc [2:59]
Lo Sodard: Traditional, Bas-Limousin [4:15]
Sequence for Epiphany

Epiphaniam Domino: School of St. Martial, Limoges (c.1150) [3:53]

Guiraut de Bornelh (1165-after 1220) Reis glorios [5:57]

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