Various: Gregorian chant and early polyphony, 5th-13th centuries

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Opus 111
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Jerusalem
WORKS: Gregorian chant and early polyphony, 5th-13th centuries
PERFORMER: Discantus/Brigitte Lesne
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-291
Brigitte Lesne is a director of the Centre de Musique Médiéval de Paris, and her all-female group Discantus specialises in music written before 1400. In this they stand comparison with the more famous Anonymous 4, though they have twice as many singers, they concentrate more obviously on French sources, and they generally sing at a noticeably higher pitch level – which can become a little piercing after an hour of listening.

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Nonetheless, this is a varied and enjoyable album which takes us on a tour of musical works which evoke Jerusalem as a religious symbol (the same theme was also used for a recent recording by Gothic Voices). The pieces from the Notre Dame manuscripts are performed rather tentatively, with the sturdy sing-song rhythms of ‘Judea et Iherusalem’ barely getting up to speed. The Laon chants, however, are sung ravishingly – especially the long, lamenting, ornamented lines of ‘Super flumina Babilonis’. Sometimes the added decoration can be rather counterproductive, as in the ‘recitation’ of the Bible reading from the Book of Wisdom which somehow contrives to obscure the text. Everything was recorded in the recently restored Sylvanès Abbey in the Pyrenees which, in spite of its reverberating acoustic, has been persuaded to produce a clear, warm, evocative soundscape. Anthony Pryer