Collection: Les Tres Riches Heures du Moyen Age

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: A Medieval Journey: from Byzantine chant to the dawn of the Renaissance
PERFORMER: Paul O’Dette (lute), etc; Clemencic Consort/Rene Clemencic, Deller Consort/Alfred Deller, Ensemble Organum/Marcel Peres, Schola Hungarica, Milliard Ensemble/Paul Hillier, Anonymous 4, etc
CATALOGUE NO: HMX 290649/54 ADD/DDD (1971-94)

Advertisement

Six of the best from Harmonia Mundi’s medieval catalogue, starting with Byzantine-Arabic chant and ending with a Renaissance pop-hit ‘II est bel et bon’ played on the ubiquitous lute. In between, you hear a veritable contretemps of countertenors, splendid boys (Schola Hungarica), enchanting ladies (Anonymous 4), inventive central Europeans (Clemencic Consort) and a positive euphoria of ensembles contributing no fewer than 125 items to this do-or-die anthology.

These reissues, accompanied by an illustrated booklet containing short essays, texts and translations, recall the French record industry some sixty years ago as it boldly bit the medieval bullet in L’anthologie sonore. Prior to this, very few people had the slightest idea what early music sounded like.

Today they have a better idea. Not necessarily the right one, because all modern performances, are reconstructions of what might have happened. No wax cylinders exist from former centuries. The retrieval work, arduous and time-consuming, has been achieved by generations of scholars. None are credited.

Advertisement

The name of Yvonne Rokseth, who first gave us the treasures of the Montpellier Codex, does not appear. Neither do those of many European musicologists who first discovered and edited this music. Yet their work has been photocopied, altered and recorded. It is impossible to select any one of these performances for special comment, but all are given in an authentic acoustic and it is good to hear this music in such persuasive interpretations. Denis Stevens