9 Sep 2019

Guillaume de Machaut: The single Rose

Guillaume de Machaut: The single Rose  
The Orlando Consort

David Fallows called them a ‘dream team’(Gramophone Awards shortlist 2014, p 23), Fabrice Fitch described their fourth Machaut album in this series as ‘ one bulls eye after another (Gramophone Awards shortlist 2018, p 20) and it will come as little surprise that now I’m about to lace them with more compliments. I love a big recording project planned with superb scholarship, lively programming and consistent performances and this Machaut series on Hyperion has it all.


I particularly like the interplay of tenors in the 3voice motet Bone pastor Guillerme / Bone pastor, qui pastores / Bone pastor. It is unusual to have all three voices starting with the same words but The Orlando Consort again avoid taking this as a cue to smooth performance: keeping the tempo brisk, and the words crisp they make the most of the harmonic throb where Guillerme’s head is adorned with a Mitre. Again, the results are arresting and immediate, particularly when compared to the smoother, ethereal approach of, say, Musica Nova (AECD 1108, 2002). Having said that there are also moments of great intimacy such as the Rondeau Merci vous pri an exercise in delicately imploring a lady of high birth.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Sept 2019)

10 Aug 2019

Messes de Barcelone et d'Apt

Messes de Barcelone et d'Apt
Ensemble Gilles Binchois, Dominique Vellard
Evidence Classics EVCD060

This programme is built around two mass settings and two manuscripts thought to preserve polyphonic music from the Papal liturgy at Avignon around 1400. The first mass is the ‘Messe De Barcelone’ whilst not a cyclic mass it contains two troped movements, Gloria and Sanctus, which create a pleasing symmetry around a substantial credo (tantalisingly labelled as by ‘Sortes’). Performing in a combination of voices, vielles and gittern, Ensemble Gilles Binchois cultivate an attractively unhurried, brooding quality; particularly in the hymn-like Kyrie which showcases the rich vocal quality of the singers. Compared with a relatively recent performance by Capella de Ministrers / Carles Magraner (CdM 08/15) this is a conservative, but sensitive offering. The Gloria has a nicely varied texture with surprisingly mellifluous tropes given over to countertenor and vielles. The Credo is performed with alternating groups of lower voices emphasising the gravitas of this large central movement. Characterised by gentle reedy countertenors and bright, light tenors, this ensemble has lots of vocal personality; they keep phrases buoyant whilst generally avoiding an accelerating towards those delightfully angular Ars Nova cadences.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Sept 2019)

9 Aug 2019

Obrecht: Masses
Missa Fortuna Desperata & Missa Maria Zart

Beauty Farm


[...] let’s compare three recordings of Missa Maria zart. This hour-long cyclic Mass is one of the biggest of the Renaissance, a surprising feat at odds with Obrecht’s modest modern profile. The Prague Madrigal Singers in 1969 (Supraphon, 6/72 – nla), singing pre-‘break in interpretation’, took a robust approach alternating a chamber choir – complete with consistent/persistent vibrato – with passages of staunch-toned vocal duets. They also employed a feast of instrumental colours on the cantus firmus. The Tallis Scholars in 1992, presumably emblematic of a ‘break in tradition’, made much lighter work of Obrecht’s busy contrapuntal textures. Their smaller ensemble and minimal vibrato created forwards momentum through gracefully phrased arcs, and they subtly embedded the long-notes of the Maria zart song in the polyphonic texture. Beauty Farm sit between these two approaches but much closer to The Tallis Scholars: their tone is richer, without persistent vibrato, and with one voice per part they delineate each polyphonic strand through different hues of vowel-sounds and shades of vocal effort. They are more confident in busier passages where they have a nice tone, balance and momentum. Longer, two-voice textures spawn occasional sour tuning (‘Qui tollis I’ in the Gloria in particular) but in general they sing with tenderness and maintain attractively brisker tempos than either other recording.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Sept 2019)

12 Jul 2019

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 & 20 Parts

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 & 20 Parts
Alamire / His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts / Stephen Farr (organ) / David Skinner
(Inventa Records)

The music of Hieronymus Praetorius is clearly influenced by Giovanni Gabrielli and the Venetian polychoral style which flourished at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Through this influence Praetorius became the first internationally famous composer of Hamburg and is best known today for his double choir Magnificats and arrangements of medieval tunes including in dulci iubilo. This new double-album explores larger-scale motets from 8 to 20 voices from his opus musicum (5 volumes 1599-1625) and is performed by combinations of cornetts, sackbuts, voices (with organ continuo) and solo organ.

The largest motet, Decantabat populus a20 is a text about singing praises. Despite grand forces and wide vocal ranges the textures avoid heaviness through use of word-rhythms and sprightly polychoral exchanges. David Skinner plays on these juxtapositions with a separation of voices and instruments. I love the warm, unhurried grandeur His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts bring to this performance and they are well balanced with the superb singers of Alamire in the acoustic of St Augustine’s, Kilburn.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Aug 2019)

1 Jul 2019

LEONARDO DA VINCI La Musique Secrète

Leonardo da Vinci: la musique secrète
Doulce Mémoire, Denis Raisin Dadre

(Alpha Classic, 2019)

This new album and book from renaissance specialists Doulce Mémoire marks 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). More than a thoughtful programme of music from a half-millennium ago, this personal journey through the Louvre’s Leonardo collection is the brain-child of director Denis Raisin Dadre who has matched paintings to exact musical contemporaries. Sparked by careful research and fruitful obsessions, the resulting performances—recorded in front of large reproductions of each artwork—are deliciously atmospheric.

[...] Unsurprisingly for a programme focussed on music-making in late 15th century Italy this is a selection dominated by oltremontani, and this Franco-Flemmish influence is crowned by Leonardo’s portrait of a musician now thought to be Josquin (1450-1521). This begets one of my favourite tracks on the disc: Josquin’s Planxit autem David has a Hilliard Ensemble-esque hue thanks to the richness of countertenor Marnix de Cat.

As the programme unfolds from deft Basse danses to Marchetto Cara’s sprightly Tante Volte si si si we hear an impressive and persuasive attempt to uncover Leonardo’s subliminal music. The Mona Lisa is a high point: Putrucci’s Per sonetti (1505) generates another charming performance from Clara Coutouly to the luminous sound of Baptiste Romain’s lire da braccio.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Jul 2019)

27 May 2019

Imaginario: De un libro de música de vihuela

Imaginario: De Un Libro De Música De Vihuela
Armonia Concertada

María Cristina Kiehr, Ariel Abramovich
John Potter, Jacob Heringman
Arcana A460

Inspired by seven surviving vihuela song books published between 1536 and 1576, this programme proffers a new imagined book ‘as if published in Valladolid or Seville between 1570 and 1580’ with arrangements by Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman. [...]

Kiehr has a ceramic glaze to her delivery: smooth and cool on the surface but warm and pleasingly textured underneath. Her dark vowels create a rich tone that never falters but just occasionally - in Arcadelt’s (c1504-1568) ‘Se per colpa del vostro fiero sdegno’ in particular - I would prefer more immediacy. Elsewhere she is supreme in bright, luminous textures: the refreshing wash of Arcadelt’s ‘Chiare, fresche et dolci acque’ is superb.


Undercutting all of this is the wonderful vihuela playing of Abramovich and Heringman. Beautifully recorded, their detailed execution of these complex polyphonic textures is as impressive and enjoyable as the programme they have created. 

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Jun 2019)  

17 Apr 2019

Love is Come Again: Music for the Springhead Easter Play

Love is come again: Music for the Springhead Easter Play
Monteverdi Choir English Baroque Soloists John Eliot Gardiner

If, like me, you enjoyed the eclectic and beautifully poised Christmas disc ‘Once as I remember’ from Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi choir some two decades ago (Philips 462 050-2PH) you will be both intrigued and delighted by his Easter offering. ‘Love is come again’ revisits music from the annual mime-play held at Gardiner’s family home, Springhead, directed by his mother. The music was chosen by Gardiner himself when an undergraduate and in his words contains “a fantastic sort of mosaic of magnificent pieces all associated with the Easter story.” This recording includes several additions to that original programme and the booklet contains a history of the Easter festival experience with archive photographs.

If all that sounds rather quaint fear not, this is no sepia-tinged indulgence: it packs a punch. [...] wait for L'Héritier’s (c.1480-1552) ‘Surrexit pastor bonus’ to hear Gardiner’s midas touch: I love the slow sumptuous tempo, like honey dripping from a spoon.

[...] There is so much to explore on this disc, from an adaption of Britten’s ‘Canticle II’ to a glorious performance of ‘Ego sum panis vivus’ attributed to Leonora d’Este (1515-1575) that, on paper at least, it looks like the mosaic is too complicated for the programme to hang together, but in reality it really does work. Springhead must have been a magical place.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (May 2019)