Works by Léonin, Pérotin & Anon

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Pérotin & Anon,Works by Léonin
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: sacred music from notre-dame cathedral
WORKS: Beata Viscera
PERFORMER: Tonus Peregrinus
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55734

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Léonin and Pérotin are crucial figures in the development of music. Masters of the Notre Dame School, they made major contributions to the evolution of polyphony, Pérotin building on the innovations of his slightly older colleague while the Cathedral was, quite literally, being built around them. As the Cathedral grew, so did one of its treasures, the Magnus liber organi (the Great Book of Organum), Pérotin eventually expanding and refining the work that Léonin had done, notably by introducing the earliest known examples of four-part independent polyphony. A respectable amount of music by both composers is currently in catalogue, but none of the available collections, I think, quite matches the approach of this album in the way it helps the listener make connections between the different forms of organum. Tonus Peregrinus even gives us examples of different solutions to the realisation of the 13th-century notation. Scholarly the approach may be, but dry it ain’t, and early music tyros should not be put off. On the contrary, this is an ideal introduction to this music, better even – and I thought I’d never say this – than David Munrow’s Music of the Gothic Era (Archiv 415 2922). The clarity, balance, sensitivity and sheer beauty of the performances makes for an utterly beguiling 70 minutes, from the opening Beata Viscera, a lovely solo by soprano Rebecca Hickey, to the final four-part compositions.

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Barry Witherden