Of Arms and a Woman – Late Medieval Wind Music
Works by Bedyngham, Binchois, Ciconia, Cordier, Dufay, Landini, Machaut, Morton, Josquin etc
First Hand Records FHR 69 61:19 mins
The wind ensemble Blondel’s first album evokes the soundworld of the ‘Autumn of the Middle Ages’, with a musical tapestry that threads together instrumental versions of courtly love songs, artful canons, grief-laden laments and strident calls to arms. Playing on reconstructions of medieval instruments, they contrast reedy shawms, rustic bagpipes and delicate recorders with bellicose trumpets, sackbuts and drums, capturing the period’s extremes of light and dark, tenderness and violence.
The programme is loosely inspired by the writings of the poet and intellectual Christine the Pizan, whose ‘Dueil angoisseus’ – a timeless outpouring on the death of her husband – inspired the hauntingly beautiful musical setting by Gilles Binchois that provides the emotional heart of the disc. We don’t hear Pizan’s text here, but the sound of plangent shawms conveys something of its intensity. These instrumental colours work well, too, for the wistful melodies of Robert Morton’s ‘Le Souvenir de vous’ and Francesco Landini’s ‘Adiu, adiu dous dame’.
The wind ensemble is most effective, though, in the rousing battle pieces, where one senses less the absence of words and voice. Blondel’s playing throughout is finely controlled – phrased and articulated with an underlying awareness of the texts.