It is not possible for Anonymous 4 to produce a bad performance, and this CD in terms of sheer sound is ravishing. But the pretext for the disc is perhaps a little flimsy, and the repertoire is rather unsuited to its style of performance. The ‘second circle’ of the title refers to the point in Dante’s Inferno reserved for lustful lovers, and there is much talk in the booklet of Petrarch and Boccaccio, but no 14th-century settings of these poets survive by Landini or any other musician (except for one piece by Jacopo da Bologna). Instead we get a stream of languid, rhythmically lax performances of rather context-less love songs sung, for the most part (since only women’s voices are used), at least an octave higher than notated.
None of this matters in those melismatic masterpieces like ‘Gran piant’ agli ochi’, whose calm expressiveness reaches easily across the centuries, but in the songs based on lively dance rhythms something vital is lost: the repeated notes of ‘Angelica biltà’ are often lazily tied together producing a much more legato effect, and the energetic ‘Echo la primavera’ has speed without crispness. Of course the caressing sounds are lovely, but they secretly neuter character. Anthony Pryer