Conductus: Music and Poetry from 13th-century France

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Conductus: Music and Poetry from 13th-century France
WORKS: Music and Poetry from 13th-century France
PERFORMER: John Potter (tenor), Christopher O’Gorman (tenor), Roger Covey-Crump (tenor)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67949

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Is there occasionally a touch too much extroversion in these performances? Possibly, but so much warmth and positivity Look up ‘conductus’ and you’ll probably be told it was sung by participants in mediaeval church processions, either in train or during a halt, for a Station of the Cross, for example. This view is no longer universally held. Apart from doubts about the function of ‘conductus’ there is uncertainty about the manner of its performance. Mark Everist’s erudite notes to this CD explain the possibilities. And while the arguments are rather involved to discuss in a short review, we do know that it’s a large repertory and draws on a broad range of poetic subjects.

Conductus proves that ascetic simplicity can be as deeply moving and aesthetically breath-taking as the most complex, heart-on-sleeve music. Simple, luminous tunes undergo subtle transformations in the rhythms, textures, vocal emphasis and interactions between vocal lines.

A poor performance by John Potter, Christopher O’Gorman and Rogers Covey-Crump would be man-bites-dog news. It’s hardly necessary to mention they are superb, their precise diction well-served by Jeremy Summerly’s production and Julian Millard’s engineering. The sound is intimate yet resonant, closely-focused and detailed yet with an ambience vividly suggesting spaciousness. This clarity is important, as communicating the texts of conductus is crucial.

Everist describes conductus as having been seen as the poor relation of 12th-14th-century music. This release goes a long way to welcoming it back into the heart of the family. Barry Witherden is communicated it would be ridiculous to object.

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Terry Blain