LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Bontés, sen, valours et pris; Dis tans plus
PERFORMER: Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45066 2 DDD
Precious little is known of Jehan de Lescurel, except that he was hanged as a common criminal in 1304 and, according to the accompanying notes, his work was that of ‘an innovator and a master’. His surviving works are found in the primary musical collection of the period, the Roman de Fauvel, and feature those forms destined to become the most popular later in the century with exponents like Machaut, Dufay and Binchois. The virelais especially foreshadow the rhythmic complexity of the later style, for example ‘Dis tans plus’, although his music is generally imbued with a simple lyricism more akin to that of Adam de la Halle.
The problem with this recording, therefore, lies not in the music. Indeed, the fact that the Binchois Ensemble is sailing musically unchartered waters is surely an advantage. But there is a blandness in the performance that suggests it never left the harbour. Although there is some admirable a capella singing, especially by the mezzo-soprano Brigitte Lesne in ‘Bontés, sen, valours et pris’, the performances suffer from a certain timidity that is compounded by occasional yet noticeable intonation slips. Perhaps, though, this can be explained in the broader context of the boom in interest in early music; although attractively ‘novel’, this unfamiliarity translates in practice into a lack of confidence on the part of the performer and an uneasiness about what to expect on the part of the listener. Katharine Road