Albion – Polyphony in England 1300-1400
Victime Paschali Laudes; Sumer is icumen in; Stella maris il; Virgo salvavit hominem etc
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
DHM 88985455212 53:17 mins
This collection bears witness to the great flowering and originality of English music in the 14th century, when local composers began to experiment with exotic chromaticisms and sonorous thirds and sixths, intervals their continental contemporaries regarded as dissonances. The 13 anonymous works here range from plangent laments to joyous Marian works, Mass movements to bi-lingual motets, French chansons, English canons and Latin carols.
While much of the music has a spartan beauty (highlighted by these pristine, straight-toned performances) there are, too, some strikingly complex and florid works – notably, the French ballade En Albion de fluns environen, with its knotty rhythms and time changes, and the melismatic Marian motet Virgo salvavit hominem, sung here with nimble grace.
Other highlights include Absalon, fili mi – David’s lament on the death of his son Absalom – whose stark, spare lines are delivered with haunting clarity; Exulta Syon – En ai je bien trouvé – a beautiful multi-texted tapestry; and the Marian sequence Mater ora filium, to which the singers bring a sense of rapt mystery. Throughout, the readings are subtly nuanced to express the wide variety of texts. Sony’s recording – in a resonant monastic chapel – is clear and detailed.