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Ecco la primavera: Florentine Music of the Fourteenth Century
James Bowman (countertenor)
Nigel Rogers and Martyn Hill (tenors)
Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow
Rec. April 1969, Decca Studio No. 3, West Hampstead, London
Italian texts and translations included
Presto CD
DECCA 436 219-2 [50:00]

Those of a certain age will remember David Munrow with great affection. For several years he presented a radio programme, Pied Piper, aimed at children but enjoyed by adults too, which covered music of all kinds and periods, with a particular interest in his speciality of Medieval and Renaissance music and instruments. He also made television programmes and wrote for films. He was a first class popularizer, well-informed, enthusiastic and never condescending. But he was more than this: he was a scholar and researcher who was a pioneer in the performance of early music. He promoted the use of early instruments along with their music, and he made a large number of recordings in the course of a short career. Some of these have been transferred to CD, and it is good that Presto have included this one in their reissue programme.

During the fourteenth century, music flourished in Florence, which already had celebrated writers and artists. The chief composer was Francesco Landini, born c. 1325, who was born blind but became a composer and instrumentalist as well as several other things besides. He is the best represented composer in this collection, while most of the others are just names, that is, when they are not anonymous. We have both vocal and instrumental music here. Vocal forms are the madrigal, the caccia or hunt, which had voices singing in canon over an instrumental part, and the ballata, with a strong rhythmic sense. Instrumental forms include the istampa or estampie, in which a single music line accompanies a dance and the saltarello, a jumping dance. As well as researching the music, Munrow must have arranged the scoring. The Early Music Consort here is a team of six, who play over a dozen instruments among them. Most of them are reasonably familiar, at least now, though the rebec, a predecessor of the viol, was new to me. Munrow himself plays recorders in three sizes, crumhorns in two and a tenor shawm. All the musicians were luminaries of the early music movement (see the listing below), and it was one of Munrow’s many skills that he could recruit such good players who were happy to take his lead.

The programme has eleven vocal numbers and eight instrumental ones, though some of the instrumental numbers, such as Quan ye voy le duç, are versions of vocal ones. Munrow allows himself a good deal of freedom in deciding the scoring for each piece. This is, I believe, authentic, as the idea of a fixed instrumentation comes from a later date. The scoring is deliberately changed for each piece, and there are only two which require the whole ensemble: the title number which opens the disc and La bionda treçça about half way through. Each is a ballata by Landini, who has six such works here, all strongly contrasted. No other named composer is represented more than once. The three singers all have turns, and it is a pleasure to hear James Bowman’s liquid countertenor again. So, for example, in Landini’s Giunta vaga biltá we have countertenor, fiddle bass viol, lute and harp, while in his Cara mie donna we have Nigel Rogers with sackbut and shawm and in Jacopo da Bologna’s Fenice fu’e vissi we have Bowman and Martyn Hill without any instrumental accompaniment. Where there is a substantial repeat, the scoring is changed for the second round.

The performances are not only full of verve but also admirably exact in intonation and rhythm. The approximate tuning which used to bedevil early music performances at that time does not appear here. Although these performances are now over fifty years old they still sound fresh and exciting. Munrow himself contributes a useful sleevenote and we are given all the words of the vocal numbers, with translations. Although this reissue is itself taken from a reissue (the programme appeared first on the Argo label), it is a quality production. It is short measure for nowadays but that corresponds to the length of the original vinyl disc and no one need feel short-changed. It is a joyful disc.

Stephen Barber

Francesco Landini, Ecco la primavera [1:41]
Anon., Lamento di Tristano [2:40]
Landini, Giunta vaga biltá [3:19]
Landini, Questa fanciull’amor [4:29]
Anon., Trotto [1:44]
Landini, Del dinmi tu[2:44]
Magister Piero, Con dolce brama [1:50]
Anon., Due saltarelli [3:00]
Antonio Zachara da Teramo, Rosetta [2:30]
Anon., Quan ye voy le duç [2:19]
Landini, Cara mie donna [3:53]
Landini, La bionda treçça [1:27]
Anon., La Manfredina [1:36]
Landini, Donna’l tuo partimento [1:36]
Giovanni da Firenze, Chon brachi assai [3:23]
Anon., Istampa Ghaetta [3:54]
Lorenzo da Firenze, Dà, dà, a chi avaregia [3:42]
Jacopo da Bologna, Fenice fu’ e vissi [2:41]
Anon., Biance flour [1:58]

The Early Music Consort
Oliver Brookes (bass viol), Mary Remnant (treble rebec, fiddle), Robert Spencer (lute), Christopher Hogwood (organ, harp, percussion), Alan Lumsden (tenor sackbut), David Munrow (recorders, soprano and alto crumhorn, tenor shawm)

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