15 Mar 2016

Balkan voices and medieval music in the work of Michael Morrow and Musica Reservata

Guest Blog for Semibrevity: A blog about early music pioneers

Michael Morrow (1929-94) was the director of Musica Reservata, an early music ensemble active in the 1960s and 70s with a repertoire that spanned from medieval to baroque.

Although Morrow was the director and often the editor of the editions used by the ensemble, harpsichordist John Beckett conducted performances. The ensemble included many superb musicians such as the organologist and percussionist Jeremy Montagu; recorder player John Sothcott; singers Ian Partridge, Nigel Rogers, Grayston Burgess, Paul Elliot and Jantina Noorman; and other instrumentalists David Fallows and Christopher Page, David Munrow, Anthony Rooley and Andrew Parrott. Parrott, incidentally, also conducted the ensemble in the early 70s after Beckett’s departure. Musica Reservata was not of course the only early music outfit to boast such specialist personnel at that time, but it does appear to have been quite an important meeting place for those musicians who specialised in medieval repertoire.

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3 Mar 2016

Scattered Ashes
Magnificat / Phlip Cave
CKD 517 (Linn Records)

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, vocal ensemble Polyphony directed by Philip Cave have created a programme of renaissance polyphonic works inspired by Girolamo Savonarola’s (1452-1498) famous meditations written whilst awaiting execution. One contemplates psalm 50 Miserere mei, Deus and another on psalm 30 In te, Domine, Speravi. Savonarola was a Dominican friar burned at the stake for his reformist preaching, his ashes were scattered in a river to prevent supporters preserving them as relics.


To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (March 2016)  

Christine de Pizan: Chansons et Ballades

Christine de Pizan: Chansons et Ballades

Berlin Classics 0300699BC

What at first glance might seem a little contrived about this programme quickly reveals itself to be a rather brilliant conceit. Christine de Pizan [/Pisane] (1364-c.1430) was a remarkable medieval writer, as Natalie Zemon Davis has described her, “France’s first professional literary woman”. The extraordinary ups and downs of her life, explored and reflected through her poetry offers commentary on the Hundred Years War, French/Italian culture and, famously, the life of Joan of Arc. Many will know Gilles Binchois’ 1430s setting of her ballade Deuil angoisseux (“Anguished grief”) marking the death of her husband, Etienne Castel, in 1390. But, surprisingly for someone of her stature and circulation, nothing else survives with music. And this is where VocaMe step in, setting her poetry; ballades, rondeaux and virelais; to music she may have known – a technique known as contrafactum. Basically: one-song-to-the-tune-of-another.

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (March 2016)

1 Mar 2016

Orlando di Lasso: Magnificat

Orlando di Lasso: Magnificat
Die Singphoniker
cpo 777 957-2

Following their well-received 2012 release: Hymnus, die Singphoniker return to Lasso (Lassus) with a new programme. Lasso wrote over 100 Magnificat settings largely on the alternatim principle: odd verses of plainsong and even verses of polyphony. Here, we have six where the polyphonic verses reference (parody) existing madrigals and hymns by other composers rather than the plainsong tone of the odd verses. Each Magnificat setting is preceded by its model, allowing listeners to hear such borrowing in operation and highlighting how the exemplars are changed and often quite substantially rewritten in the process. Contemporary listeners would certainly have recognized such secular music reworked into sacred and musicologist, David Crook, has explained that this process exemplifies a desire to elevate secular music through repurposing it for a liturgical function.

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (March 2016)