WORKS: The Autumn of the Middle Ages: Chansons from the 14th and 15th centuries
PERFORMER: Alla Francesca
CATALOGUE NO: 111 OPS 30-173
These complex and varied songs date from c1380 to c1430. They represent the French courtly style at its glorious best and most influential, with examples from Flanders, Burgundy, the Pyrenees, Italy and Cyprus. The performers come from the Paris Centre for Medieval Music and, on the whole, are slightly better instrumentalists than singers. The fast and fluty bird imitations in ‘Par maintes fois’ show off the recorder skills of Florence Jacquemart and Pierre Hamon delightfully, and even the unusual group of instruments playing an arrangement of the keyboard piece, ‘Or sus mon coeur’, from the Codex Faenza, manage to sideline authenticity with virtuosity.
Among the singers, Emmanuel Bonnardot gives us a particularly flexible and rich account of Libert’s ‘Se je me plains’. He also contributes to the best musical joke on the disc – Solage’s ‘Fumeux fume’, in which the ‘smoky speculations’ of the text cause the music to drift endlessly and weirdly through many ‘keys’. This is a varied and enjoyable collection, but its limitations can be heard by comparing Binchois’s ‘Ay, douloureux’ as performed here with the version on Hyperion by Gothic Voices: here we have surface pleasantness, there we find attention to subtle details, such as the overlapping lines of imitation in the introduction, the tuning tensions and the myriad tiny aspects of the text-music relationship. Anthony Pryer