Gautier de Coincy: Songs of Angels

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COMPOSERS: Gautier de Coincy
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Songs of Angels
PERFORMER: New London Consort/Philip Pickett
CATALOGUE NO: 460 794-2
From Rautavaara to mystic minimalists ancient and modern, angels have never had it so good. And now Philip Pickett has added to the heavenly canon his new edition and realisation of eight of the Chansons à la vierge from the Miracles de Nostre-Dame of Gautier de Coincy (born c1177).

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The idea was to lull the Devil to sleep, joining the angels in singing of the Blessed Virgin day and night. And you can hear how it works: repetition upon repetition creates mesmeric patternings of melody, rhyme and rhythm in this, the earliest significant collection of vernacular songs on sacred subjects.

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Pickett encourages gently blended, totally unprecious singing from his nine vocalists. And, in rifling medieval angel iconography and writings for clues, he chooses instrumental timbres which most sensitively and imaginatively recreate and vary what can be undistinguished, highly repetitive material. So, ‘Amours, qui bien ses enchanter’ becomes a round dance, with male and female voices matching the verse’s echoing internal and end rhymes. Each stanza of the refrain pastoral ‘Hui matin à l’ajournée’ (a close cousin of ‘Sumer is icumen in’) is entwined with counter-melodies like ribbons round a maypole. And the 20-minute-long dance-song ‘Entendez tuit ensemble’ becomes a hypnotic garland of Biblical typology, centred round the famous ‘Eva/Ave’ conceit. Irresistible. Hilary Finch