ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Masters of the Rolls
WORKS: Music by 14th-century English composers
PERFORMER: Gothic Voices/Christopher Page
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67098
When we enjoy music we are usually responding not only to the sounds themselves but also to the musical personalities that composed them. But we do not know the names of the composers on this CD. And they have been described as ‘Masters of the Rolls’ not because they held any identifiable position within an institution but because it is on long parchment rolls that some of their music survives.
Not everything is without a context though. Four of the song texts mention Thomas of Lancaster who played a part in the dismissal of Edward II’s favourite, Piers Gaveston. Their melodies are lost, but here the words have been set to plainsong tunes. Again, Singularis laudis mentions Edward III: this piece was originally recorded by Gothic Voices (also on Hyperion) in 1987 at a lower pitch but with more incisive rhythmic treatment; the present languid performance is more obviously pleasing though perhaps not more authentic. But some of the greatest works are almost impossible to place. Omnes terra has a text in the middle voice that is almost surreal in its obscurity, but the responsive interchange of the singers invokes a great colloquium of musical ideas. And Missus Gabriel is a rather pat hymn to the Virgin, but the salty euphony of its music swims in the head like a sea breeze from Grimsby. Anthony Pryer