Various: Songs to the Virgin from 13th-century France

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: La Bele Marie
WORKS: Songs to the Virgin from 13th-century France
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907312
This is the 14th CD from this fab female four of medieval music. It is immaculately presented, has a warm, ethereal acoustic and explores an unusual repertoire. Full marks, then, for keeping up the usual standard. But the dogged consistency of their performance style does not always serve these varied repertoires well.

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Medieval Latin and French songs, for example, probably require a slightly different tuning system from our modern one, emphasising the clashes rather than softening them as Anonymous 4 does in ‘Serena virginum’. Also, a nasal timbre might be more authentic than the bell-like openness which the singers present to beautiful (modern) effect in ‘Ave virgo virginum’ and elsewhere. Again, in Pérotin’s ‘Beata viscera’, the singers add F sharps to the melody, turning it into a kind of major mode, rather than a minor one, and they omit the verses in this piece that ‘contain references to the Jews that are unflattering’. This CD is dedicated to the memory of those who died in the attack on the Twin Towers, but by showing that anti-Semitism has a long history they might have underlined even more effectively the urgency of fighting it now, and still kept faith with the real medieval world. Anthony Pryer