Various: Polyphony of the English Chapels Royal

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense!
WORKS: Polyphony of the English Chapels Royal
PERFORMER: Diabolus in Musica/Antoine Guerber
CATALOGUE NO: 022 (distr. www.alpha-prod.com)
During the 14th and 15th centuries England was famous for its music, thanks to the immense flowering of activities in the new choral foundations under Edward III, Henry IV and Henry V. The stunning range of pieces sung in these Royal Chapels is nicely displayed in this intelligent and lively selection – though one might detect a slight francophile bias in the absence of works celebrating the victories of the English Kings in the Hundred Years War (such as the ‘Agincourt Carol’).

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Strangely enough, these French singers are at their best in those pieces which are most obviously English in style, full of block chords and simple, warm harmonies. Anything more intricate – ‘Quare fremuerunt’, for example – tends to fall foul of their inexact tuning, though they create a great sense of fun in ‘Campanis/Honoremus’ (which imitates the sound of bells). In the end, however, they simply cannot measure up to some excellent English recordings of this repertoire, such as the beautifully controlled version of Pycard’s Gloria by Gothic Voices (on Hyperion) – a verdict I stand by in spite of the warning to all music critics in the title of this latest disc: ‘Evil be to him who evil thinks’. Anthony Pryer