musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Medieval Passion and Easter music from Paris

[I] "Surrexit Christus - Vêpres et procession de jour de Pâques à Notre-Dame de Paris au XIIIe siècle" (Vespers and procession on Easter Day in Notre-Dame in Paris in the 13th century)
Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris, Ensemble Grégorien
Dir: Sylvain Dieudonné

rec: May 6 - 8 & June 14 - 16, 2009, Paris, Église de l'Annonciation
Hortus - 073 (© 2009) (71'17")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translation: E/F

(in order of appearance)
anon [Introduction] Christo psallat, rondellus
[Vespers] Deus in adiutorium, invitatory; Surrexit Christus, antiphon - Dixit Dominus, Psalm 109; Hec est dies letitie, motet; Hec dies, gradual; Dat superis, motet; Epulemur, alleluia - Exilium, motet; Alleluia. Agnus redemit, sequence; Et respicientes, antiphon - Magnificat; Deus qui hodierna, oratio
[Procession] Deo confitemini, motet; Christus resurgens, responsory - Dicant, organum; Surrexit Dominus, verse - Presta quesumus, oratio; Hec est dies, conductus; Ego sum alpha et oo, antiphon; Gavisi sunt, verse - Presta quesumus, oratio; Resurgente Domino, conductus; Sedit angelus, responsory - Crucifixum, organum; Noli flere, verse - Presta quesumus, oratio; Laudes referat, motet; Benedicamus Domino, benediction
[Final] Vetus purgans, rondellus

Raphaël Mas, Andrés Rojas-Urrego, alto; Camillo Angarita, Olivier Guérinel, Branislav Rakic, tenor; Emmanuel Bouquey, Geoffroy Buffière, Christophe Gautier, baritone, bass

[II] "Crux - Parisian Easter music from the 13th & 14th centuries"
Ensemble Peregrina
Dir: Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett

rec: June 2010, Binningen-Bottmingen (Basel), Heilig Kreuz Kirche
Glossa - GCD 922505 (© 2011) (70'44")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: A sinu Patris mittitur, rondellus a 1; Adam novus, song a 1; Breves dies hominis, rondellus a 1; Cruci Domini/Crux, forma/Portare, motet a 1; Mors vite propitia, rondellus a 1; Quis tibi Christe meritas, conductus a 3; Resurgentis Domini, Benedicamus a 3; Stabat iuxta Christi crucem, prosa a 1; Surgit Christus cum tropheo, sequence a 1; Victime paschali laudes, prosa a 2; Vineam meam plantavi, rondellus a 1; GODEFROY de St. Victor (?-1198): Planctus ante nescia, prosa a 1; PHILIPPE Le Chancelier (c1165-1236): Clavus pungens acumine, conductus a 2; Crux, de te volo conqueri, conductus a 1; Homo vide que pro te patior, conductus a 1; Baptiste ROMAIN, Agnieszka BUDZINSKA-BENNETT: Estampie I; Estampie II; Nota

Lorenza Donadini, voice; Kelly Landerkin, voice; Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett, voice, harp; Baptiste Romain, vielle, rubeba

Musically speaking the 13th century was an exciting time. Composers were experimenting with polyphony, and in particular visitors of the Notre Dame in Paris could hear music they had never heard before. This kind of music still has the power to send audiences into raptures. I experienced that myself many years ago, when music by Pérotin and Léonin was sung by the Hilliard Ensemble in the Holland Festival Early Music. Those composers rank among the greatest masters of late-medieval sacred music, and are the main representatives of what has been called the Notre Dame school. The disc of the Ensemble Grégorien of present-day Notre Dame is devoted to repertoire written for or performed at this cathedral in the 13th century.

The programme brings a kind of reconstruction of Vespers and Procession as it could have taken place on Easter Sunday. Easter was still the most important feast in the ecclesiastical year, and not yet overshadowed by Christmas. The first part contains music for Vespers, beginning with the invitatory Deus in adiutorium, which is followed by one of the Vesper psalms, Dixit Dominus, preceded and followed by the antiphon Surrexit Christus. It is the only psalm and that means that this isn't a complete reconstruction. It just gives some idea of what the liturgy on this Sunday looked like. Next we hear a motet, a gradual, another motet, an alleluia, a sequence, the Magnificat, again preceded and followed by an antiphon, and the Vespers close with the oratio.

The second part is devoted to music for the procession. "What we have reconstructed here is the XIIIth century Parisian version of the procession, which made three stops. At each stop, an ornate response or antiphon was sung, followed by a verse and a prayer", Sylvain Dieudonné writes in the booklet. The procession ends with a motet and the benediction.

The liturgical ceremony as performed here consists of plainchant and polyphonic pieces, which are all anonymous. Polyphony appears in three forms. The first is the organum which is historically most closely associated with the Notre Dame school. It is based upon a plainchant melody; polyphonic and plainchant passages alternate. In the polyphonic episodes one voice sings the plainchant melody, called the tenor, over which one or two - sporadically even three - other voices sing highly ornamented parts. These are often so much elaborated that one syllable can easily take more than one minute. The organum Crucifixum, for instance, has only 13 words, but the performance lasts more than 9 minutes without any text repetition. It is an example of the virtuosity of the repertoire of the Notre Dame school which reflects the great skills of the singers who were at the cathedral's service. The second form is the conductus, a type of sacred but non-liturgical piece for one or more voices, which is not based on plainchant. In comparison to the organum it is less complicated, also due to its more regular rhythm. Even so, a piece like Hec es dies (track 14), with its many long melismas, is by no means easy. The third form is that of the motet, which was originally a trope in a liturgical chant and gradually developed into an independent piece.

The programme begins and ends with a rondellus, a vocal piece with refrain and episodes for solo and 'choir'. "They certainly accompanied many a circle-dance (or round) to the enjoyment of the clerics, and the vehemently-voiced disapproval of the church authorities", according to Dieudonné. In these two pieces the singers are supported by percussion.

This repertoire fascinated contemporaries and made the Notre Dame school famous. If performed well this music can be extremely exciting, in particular the organa with their obstinate rhythms and virtuosic ornamentation. And the music on this disc is performed well. The singing is pretty far away from the fluent British style of the Hilliard Ensemble, but probably closer to how music was sung at the time. The historical pronunciation of Latin contributes to these performances making the impression of being very 'authentic'. They also show that music before the baroque era certainly was not devoid of expression. The performances underline the exaltation which characterizes some of the music on this disc, and which reflects the importance of Easter in the Christian church of the 13th century.

The booklet contains liner-notes and translations of the lyrics in French and English. The glossary is most helpful to understand the various forms which appear on the programme.

The second disc claims to include 'Parisian Easter music' from the 13th and 14th centuries. That has to be taken with a grain of salt. Firstly, not all items in the programme can be associated with Paris. Three pieces are from the manuscript Las Huelgas, named after the convent in Burgos in Spain where it is preserved. Surgit Christus cum tropheo was written in Prague and Adam novus is from the Livre de Jeux de Fleury, a collection of liturgical texts and music which was kept at the library of the Abbaye Saint Benoît de Fleury, a Benedictine monastery at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.

Secondly, the reference to Easter is not very accurate, as many pieces are in fact connected to Passiontide. Two pieces specifically refer to the sorrow of Mary about the sufferings and death of her son: Planctus ante nescia by Godefroy de St. Victor and Stabat iuxta Christi crucem from the manuscript Las Huelgas. It is only in the second half of the programme that we hear pieces which specifically refer to the resurrection.

The music on this disc is quite different from that on the first disc. There is no such thing as a liturgical reconstruction here. A number of pieces are even not meant for the liturgy at all. That is certainly the case with the compositions by Philippe le Chancelier, who sharply criticizes the clergymen of his time. In Clavus pungens acumine he calls them "a pack of wolves" and tells them: "you rip apart Christ's limbs". The planctus was a popular genre in the Middle Ages; it was non-liturgical, but could be performed in church. It is questionable, though, whether in such performances the singer would have been accompanied by an instrument, as is the case here in Planctus ante nescia which is performed by voice and fiddle. And the pieces in the form of a rondellus are rather unlikely to be performed in church.

These aspects make this disc complementary to the first as it sheds light on different kinds of music from more or less the same time and largely the same region. The performances are first-class. The three singers have fine voices, agile and flexible. They blend beautifully in the pieces with two or three voices, but they are different enough to tell them apart. That is particularly appropriate in Crux, de te volo conqueri which is a dialogue between Mary and the Cross, in which the two 'roles' are allocated to Kelly Landerkin and Lorenza Donadini respectively. Medieval music is not expressive in a baroque way, but that doesn't mean that it is without emotion. Stabat iuxta Christi crucem is an impressive example, brilliantly sung by Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett. She and Baptiste Romain also wrote the instrumental parts, including the three instrumental pieces. The pronunciation of the texts needs to be mentioned: it is different from both the conventional Italian pronunciation and from what is practised on the first disc. Apparently the information regarding pronunciation is not unambiguous.

Because of the repertoire and the performances these two discs are important additions to the discography of music for Passiontide and Easter. Both can be highly enjoyed in other seasons as well.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Peregrina
La Maîtrise de Notre-Dame de Paris

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