LABELS: L’empreinte digitale
WORKS: Songs & motets
PERFORMER: Ensemble Venance Fortunat
CATALOGUE NO: ED 13045 (distr. Harmonia Mundi)
Some 2,000 songs survive from the 12th and 13th centuries. They form a magical repertoire, but one that needs to be brought into focus by appropriate selection and performance. Here we have three contrasting solutions to that problem. The Alla Francesca disc is the most dramatic and the least authentic. In spite of the Richard the Lionheart tag, few of these songs are firmly related to him, they are not always sung complete and they are heavily larded with ‘atmospheric’ instrumental interludes. (Compare Gothic Voices’ more historically aware Music for the Lionhearted King on Hyperion.) But there is real emotion here: in Faidit’s ‘Fortz chausa est’, for example, the ensemble wonderfully conjures up the authentic clamorous lament of the words by inauthentic means.
By contrast, the Venance selection reconstructs a genuine centre of musical activity (the court of Champagne), and the singer is accompanied only by the (well-authenticated) harp. The delicacy and clarity of the performances are a delight – especially in the sparkling May Song ‘Les oiselez’. The Oiseau-Lyre disc presents a shortlist of the most famous songs but, beyond that, it is anything but ordinary. The brilliant Catherine Bott sings entirely unaccompanied throughout, treating us to a feast of shimmering images and subtle nuances which gloriously reveal the long-hidden artistry of composers such as Gace Brulé (in ‘Desconfortez’) and Bernart de Ventadorn (in ‘Can vei la lauzeta’). Anthony Pryer