COMPOSERS: Ambrosian Chant,Anonymous,Notre Dame School Anonymous,Troubadour Anonymous
WORKS: Chant and polyphony from 12th-century France
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5547
It is now 40 years since the Harmonia Mundi label was founded. As part of its celebrations it is reissuing some of its key recordings and, in the field of medieval music, it could not have chosen a better representative than the first disc here – a truly atmospheric account of troubadour music performed by the Clemencic Consort, first released in 1977.
One unusual aspect is the inclusion of brief biographies (which occur in the manuscript at the head of each section devoted to a particular composer), read in the original Provençal language; another is Clemencic’s tendency to flavour the performances with the influence of Arabic music. Fashions have changed now, with new approaches to rhythm and with less flamboyant instrumental participation, but these are compelling performances – especially of the famous Quand vei la lauseta (quoted by Dante).
The American group Lionheart was established only four years ago and is making something of a name for itself, though not, I suspect, with this disc of mostly anonymous music from around 1200. There are some pleasing moments – as with the bagpipe effects in ‘Mors vite propitia’ and the close harmonies of ‘Mundus vergens’ – but ‘Olim sudor Hercules’ is definitely rough, and the motet ‘Mens fidem’ is mechanical, slow and ponderous. The natural acoustics (in Leominster Abbey) work well, except for some distortion on track 13. But this intellectual, subtle and vigorous music is, in general, mishandled here. Anthony Pryer