The Teseum in Tongeren contains many ecclesiastical treasures, including late mediaeval plainchant manuscripts. From these beautiful sources, Psallentes has chosen a series of real gems: chant from the liturgy for the great feasts — such as Christmas and Easter— and chant with a more local colour — such as the hymns for saints such as Maternus and Servatius. This recording thus offers a fine image of the richness of the liturgy in Tongeren in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Drawing on his vast experience as viola player of the Arditti Quartet, Ensemble InterContemporain and his close collaboration with many of the today’s leading composers, Garth Knox has become a master of many styles. Presenting a completely new interpretation of the “Book of Angels”, the beautiful medieval-tinged arrangements produced by Garth Knox and his group capture the folk song quality of Zorn’s compositions with a lovely and intimate ensemble of strings and percussion. Playing viola and viola d’amore, Garth presents these enigmatic compositions in a new and refreshing light. This penultimate installment of the “Book of Angels” is also one of the most charmingly beautiful.
If Ockeghem's Missa L'Homme Armé was the earliest such to be composed, then perhaps it is not easy to understand why Dufay, Busnois, Caron and others may have been inspired to create their own mass using the tune as the cantus firmus. Ockeghem's work seems under-ambitious by comparison, almost simplistic - the cantus firmus remains easily recognisable, retaining the original rhythm, not stretched out to unfathomable lengths, nor excessively ornamented and buried under immense counterpoint - it's as though he wanted the tune to come to the fore. In the light of this, it seems odd in a way that the ensemble The Sound and the Fury have chosen to retain the L'Homme Armé lyrics in the tenor part at certain points of this performance, a practice not to my purist taste.
French group La Main Harmonique is named for the "Guidonian hand," known to generations of music history graduate students, which teaches solmization syllables by means of labeled finger joints. That suggests the basic orientation here, which is toward specialists; the booklet dutifully lists library sources but does not provide anything so helpful as translations of the 15th-century French texts (there are some almost completely black photos of the performers, though). It's nice, however, to have recordings of this secular chanson repertoire, which in the case of Johannes Ockeghem is not so well represented on recordings as his intellectually fearsome masses.
Hearing or performing music comes closest in the range of human activity to a visceral connection to the past. As long as we have notation and knowledge of how to interpret it, we can effectively experience something like our ancestors did when they sang the same music. Of course, our 20th-century sensibilities and knowledge–or lack thereof–prevent us from sharing identical responses, but as with the music on this disc, when we hear it we are in some way transported to another place. We know a completely different sound world from our own; we know that the accepted order of certain things was different. And we also know that in many ways people haven't changed. Machaut's music conveys a spirituality–both joyful and contemplative–that's as true in its impact as it must have been 600 years ago, a point made ever so clearly by these especially vibrant and vital performances.
Jordi Savall has brought us yet another treasure on his own Alia Vox label, this time a mixed bag of music by Reformation Era composers and a handful of slightly earlier works. It’s all taken from a concert program Savall gave last year under the aegis of “greatest hits of the court of Charles V”. The composers presented are mostly court musicians for that Holy Roman Emperor, but Josquin and Heinrich Isaac also are included, the latter as a nod to Charles’ grandfather, Maximilian I, who was responsible for getting Charles the crown. Savall combines his first-rate instrumental ensemble, updated to Hespèrion XXI, with his own vocal group, La Capella Reial de Catalunya. The results are captivating. Savall’s musicians are tops in the field, and their collective talents, constantly on display in this varied program, are simply a joy to hear.
The works on this 2-CD set all come from a single source: a document called "Cancionero de Montecassino" which is believed to contain works composed between 1430 and 1480. Somehow the document has survived down through the centuries; it was almost lost when the Abbey where it was stored was bombed in 1944. Luckily the document survived so that this amazing CD set could be recorded by the - also amazing - Le Capella Reial de Catalunya. This CD is the second in a series entitled "Musicas Reales", the first of which being "Carlos V" containing works mainly from the 16th century. If you enjoyed that one, then "Alfons V el Magnanim" will be a welcome addition to your CD spinner.
The composers known collectively as the Fiamminghi made their mark in Europe in general and in Italy and in France in particular during the 15th century. Their talent and skill gained them the most important positions in the great musical establishments of the time. This collection is devoted to the leading composers of the 15th century, from those of the first generation (Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Arnold de Lantins and Johannes Brassart) through Johannes Ockeghem, the great master of polyphonic technique, to Josquin Desprez and Pierre de La Rue, two musicians taught by Ockeghem who laid the foundations of the Ars Perfecta during the Renaissance. Also included is Jacob Obrecht, the only composer of this school whose career was based essentially in his native Flanders. Every genre of both sacred as well as secular music of the time is represented here.
This CD from the ever-enterprising Belgian label, Musique en Wallonie, presents clean, clear, penetrating, yet appropriately emotionally-charged singing from Psallentes, the nine-person group from that country. They have captured the calm and the conviction of anonymous vocal works - including the beautiful Mass, Sancta Trinitas - from fifteenth and sixteenth century religious music of the region. The manuscripts (shelf-marked ‘BCT A 58’) are located in the cathedral of Tournai (also in Walloon) and were rediscovered in 2006 after having disappeared (and thought lost) at the end of the Second World War.
Ambrosian chant (also known as Milanese chant) is the liturgical plainchant repertory of the Ambrosian rite of the Roman Catholic Church, related to but distinct from Gregorian chant. It is primarily associated with the Archdiocese of Milan, and named after St. Ambrose much as Gregorian chant is named after Gregory the Great. It is the only surviving plainchant tradition besides the Gregorian to maintain the official sanction of the Roman Catholic Church.
"…This release focuses on the Spanish Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and the music is drawn from three "Cancioneros," or Spanish songbooks, from the early Renaissance era. There is an amazing range of material presented among the 31 tracks on the disc, from gentle instrumental solos to bombastic courtly dances and even some folksy-sounding secular choral pieces. Although the Dufay Collective is primarily known as an instrumental group, all of the vocalizing here is splendid, with the singing of Vivian Ellis being particularly outstanding in its ease of delivery and tasteful use of decoration. This recording comes highly recommended." 4,5/5 ~AMG
…These 17 hymns and chants, dating from the 14th through the early-18th centuries, are sung in Greek, Romanian, Latin, and Italian, and are beautiful examples of early vocal music, sung as closely as possible to the way they were historically. The beauty of these pieces is powerful and striking, and the growing complexity of the melodies as the pieces move chronologically through the centuries is fascinating to follow…