musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Instrumental music of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance

[I] "Tempus viellatorum - Fiddle in the music of the XIII century"
Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernández, fiddle; Pepe Morales Luna, citole; Raul Lacilla Crespo, muse; Mauricio Molina, frame drum, tambourine, clappers
rec: 2016, Besalú (Girona), Cúria Real
Enchiriadis - EN2047 (© 2018) (46'39")
Liner-notes: E/F/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

ADAM de la Halle (c1240-c1287): Merveille est quel talent j'ai de chanter; anon: Amis, amis, Trop me laissiez en estrange paďs/Rotrouenge; Clavus pungens acumine [4]; Danse Real 1, 2, la quinte Estampie Real [1]; Florex fex favellea [4]; O varium Fortune [4]; Salva nos stella maris/Veris principium/Psallite regi glorie; GAUTIER de Dargies (c1165-1236): La douce pensee [3]; Guiraut RIQUIER (c1230-1292): Humils, forfaitz repres e penedens/Jhesu Crist, filh de Dieu vieu [2]; JEHAN de Lescurel (?-1304): Amour, voules-vous acorder/Amours, que vous ai meffait/Abundance de felonnie; THIBAUT de Champagne (1201-1253): Aussi com l'unicorne/Cantus coronatus [1]; UC de Saint Circ (1217-1253): Tres enemics e dos mals segnors ai/Nuls hom no sap d'amic tro l'a perdut

Sources: [1] Chansonnier du Roi; [2] Chansonnier La Valličre; [3] Chansonnier Noailles; [4] Roman de Fauvel

[II] "Tesserae - Medieval music for recorders and percussion"
Duo Enßle-Lamprecht
rec: Dec 19 - 21, 2016, Naturns (I), Prokulus Museum
Audax Records - ADX 13712 (© 2017) (52'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Alleluia O Maria rubens rosa [2]; Ave maris stella [3]; Chominciamento di Gioia; Eya mater fidelium [4]; La Manfredina e Rota; La Quinte Estampie Real [1]; Stabat iuxta Christi crucem [4]; Tre Fontane; BERNART de Ventadorn (c1130/40?-c1190/1200): Can vei la lauzeta mover [1]; Mönch von Salzburg (14th C): Eya herre goto was mag das gesein?; Ich het czu hannt geloket mir ain falcken waidenleichen [5]; O Vasenacht [5]

Sources: [1] Chansonnier du Roi; [2] Codex Engelberg; [3] Codex Faenza; [4] Codex Las Huelgas; [5] Mondsee-Wiener Liederhandschrift

Anne-Suse Enßle, recorder; Philipp Lamprecht, voice, percussion

[III] "Winter"
Corina Marti, recorder, clavisimbalum, organetto; Marie Nishiyama, harp; Roger Helou, organetto
rec: Nov 2016, Beuggen (D)
Ayros - AY-CD04 (© 2020) (61'42")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

anon: Adyen matres belle (after Gilles Binchois, Adieue mes tres belles amours); Annavasanna (after anon, Une foys avant que morir); Ave stella matutina; Bohu svému krali nebebskému; Christus surrexit mala nostra texit; Der Winter will hin wichen; Gross senen; Ich sachs eyns mols den lichten morgensterne; Ich sah ein bild in blauwer weyt; Magnificat octani toni; Parleregart/Ad huc semel (after Guillaume Dufay, Par le regart de vos beaulx yeulx); [piece without title] (after anon, J'ay pris amours a ma devise); [piece without title] (tenor: Kyrie Cunctipotens genitor Deus); Portigaler (after Guillaume Dufay, Or me veult bien esperance mentir); Praeambulum super f; Praeambulum super sol; Qui vult messite (after Gilles Binchois, Qui veut mesdire); Redeuntes in fa; Redeuntes in Idem me de eadem mensura; Redeuntes in la; Redeuntes in ut; Se la phase pale (after Guillaume Dufay, Se la face ay pale); Sequuntur Redeuntes in Idem; Verlangen tut mich krencken; Antoine BUSNOYS (c1430-1492): A vous sans aultre; En soustenant vostre querelle; Jacobus VILETTI (Jacques VILLETTE) (?-?): Ein buer gein holtze

Sources: Buxheimer Orgelbuch; Lochamer Liederbuch; Glogauer Liederbuch [Zagan partbooks]

It seems that there are music lovers who don't like vocal music very much, and prefer instrumental music. That is no problem at all, as far as the music from the early 16th century until our own time is concerned. It is very different in music of previous centuries: during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, vocal music was the main genre, and the human voice was considered the superior instrument. Very little instrumental music from that time has come down to us. Undoubtedly instrumental music was played on many occasions. However, such music was usually not written down, but handed over orally. Instrumental music was mostly improvised anyway. The repertoire was largely vocal: players of instruments, such as the fiddle, the flute or the lute, played motets or secular works, either unchanged or adapted to the possibilities of their respective instruments. The largest part of purely instrumental music concerns dance music and (in the early Renaissance) pieces for instruments as the keyboard and the lute. Instrumental ensembles of today also play pieces which were originally conceived as vocal works, but have come down to us without a text.

Most recordings of medieval and renaissance music include vocal works or a mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces. Over the years, discs with purely instrumental music have seldom crossed my path. From that angle, the three discs under review here deserve special attention. They cover different periods in music history. The first two are devoted to music from the Middle Ages; one piece even appears on both. The third comprises a collection of pieces from three sources put together in the second half of the 15th century, the early Renaissance. The connection between the second and the third is the key role of the recorder.

On his disc "Tempus viellatorum", Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernández focuses on the role of the fiddle in medieval music. Its importance cannot be overrated. Hernández opens his liner-notes with quotations from Johannes de Grocheio, a French music theorist who was active around 1300. He declared the fiddle to be the supreme instrument whose repertory encompasses every kind of cantus and cantilena. The instrument frequently appears in products of the visual arts at the time. It is assumed that it was the main instrument of troubadours and trouvčres, but was also used in sacred music. At the time, most music was still monodic. Secular songs have usually been preserved with a single line. It is assumed that singers of the time used instruments like the fiddle to accompany themselves, and to introduce and ornament their songs. Ornamentation was an important part of musical performances in the Middle Ages.

In modern performances and recordings, the fiddle plays a major role. It participates in performances of vocal and instrumental music, but in both cases it is almost always part of an ensemble. On Hernández's disc, the fiddle can be heard together with another instrument as well, but also in a solo role in performances of chansons (Guiraut Riquer, Thibaut de Champagne, Adam de la Halle, Jehan de Lescurel). In other pieces, it is accompanied by a citole (a plucked lute), a muse (a bagpipe) or a percussion instrument. In such cases it takes different roles. In the anonymous Amis, amis, for instance, the melody is played by the citole, whereas the fiddle plays a drone. The same is the case in La douce pensee, a lai by Gautier de Dargies. In the anonymous motet Salva nos stella maris, the material is divided between muse and fiddle; the latter plays the lower part. In two cases the fiddle plays the melody and produces a drone at the same time (Adam de la Halle, Lescurel). In these pieces Hernández plays a fiddle with lateral drone, as the booklet says. In his notes, he discusses the various sorts of fiddles known at the time the music was written, and the various tunings. In some items the fiddle is accompanied by a percussion instrument, mainly for rhythmic reasons, such as in La quinte estampie real.

This is a most interesting disc, which sheds light on what may have been a common performance practice in the Middle Ages: players of instruments performing whatever was at hand, either dance music or - mostly - vocal music. Recreating that kind of performance practice in strict sense is impossible, as instrumentalists at the time may have mostly improvised and played music from memory. Even so, the variety of repertoire and the way it is performed here brings us closer to the musical world of the Middle Ages. These are excellent performances of some of the best repertoire of the time. It is just a shame that the playing time is rather short and that the English translation of the liner-notes leaves something to be desired. It should withhold no lover of medieval music to add this disc to his collection.

The booklet does not include any information about the music and the composers. That is different with the second disc, but there any information about the reasons behind the selection of pieces or the way they are performed is omitted. We are even not told which instruments are used, except in some cases as part of the notes on individual items. The use of the recorder in the Middle Ages is documented from iconographical evidence; moreover, some (remainders) of medieval recorders have been found. However, pictures of the time don't always provide us with concluding evidence whether the instruments are real recorders. It is unlikely it played as important a role as the fiddle. Obviously, singers could not use it to accompany themselves. The participation of recorders in the pieces selected by Anne-Suse Enßle and Philipp Lamprecht is the result of artistic decisions, which one may find convincing or not. Especially in Bernart de Ventadorn's Can vei lauzeta mover it is probably out of place, as this piece dates from the 12th century.

Four pieces are specifically intended for instrumental performance: La quinte estampie real, La Manfredina e Rota, Chominciamento di Gioia and Tre Fontane. The latter three are all from the same manuscript preserved in London (London 29987). Nobody knows for sure how this dance music was performed at the time. Today, most performers can't resist the temptation to use percussion instruments, but it is questionable whether it was as frequently used as is the case today. Obviously, that goes even more for the other items. It is perfectly alright to perform vocal pieces instrumentally, but whether recorder and percussion are the most plausible options is debatable (the subtitle of the disc, suggesting that the music was intended for recorders and percussion, is obviously nonsense). Apparently, the performers like the glockenspiel very much, but they use it a bit too often. In la quite estampie real it works rather artificial; its dance rhythm is somewhat underexposed. In several other pieces, I would have preferred softer instruments such as the fiddle and plucked instruments, and no percussion at all.

Surprisingly, one item is sung: in Can vei la lauzeta mover by Bernart de Ventadorn, Philipp Lamprecht turns out to be a competent singer.

There can be no doubt about the capabilities of the two artists. If you like this combination, you will enjoy this disc. To me, it is just too much of the same, and in most pieces, the use of recorder and in particular percussion does not convince me.

On a note about the production: the digital booklet available from Naxos omits the translation of the liner-notes in French as well as the lyrics of Bernart de Ventadorn's Can vei la lauzeta mover.

With the third disc, we are in the second half of the 15th century, a period of which we know much more as far as performance practice is concerned. However, even in the repertoire of this period, performers need to take decisions on the basis of 'historically informed speculation'. For this recording, Corina Marti, Marie Nishiyama and Roger Helou have turned to three different sources of instrumental music. The best-known of them is the Buxheimer Orgelbuch. It is one of the earliest sources of music specifically intended for a particular instrument: the organ. The fact that the music is written in the form of an organ tablature leaves no room for doubt. That does not tell us on exactly what kind of instruments these pieces - arrangements of secular songs and dances, but also liturgical pieces and original keyboard works - should be played. The performers have chosen to use a clavisimbalum and an organetto. The other instruments are recorder and harp, but as the booklet does not indicate from which source each piece is taken, I can't tell whether these also participate in performances of pieces from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch. That would be no problem, by the way: the pieces from this collection can be played by other instruments as well. However, a performance by more than one player is less plausible as the music has been preserved as a single book in tablature.

That is different in the case of the Glogauer (or Zagan) partbooks; the fact that these pieces have come down to us as partbooks indicate that they were intended for performance by several players. The recently adopted name of 'Zagan partbooks' is motivated by the fact that their origin can be connected to the monastery of the Canons Regular of St Augustine in Zagan in Poland. It is a token of the 'global' character of the music scene of the time that they include pieces from across the continent. In that respect it is not any different from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch and the Lochamer Liederbuch, the third source from which pieces on this disc are taken. However, the latter is particularly important for its German repertoire, as it contains a number of pieces not known from any other source. It includes vocal pieces with texts as well as instrumental intabulations. Some pieces appear in both the Lochamer Liederbuch and the Buxheimer Orgelbuch, albeit in different forms.

A particular problem in these sources are the titles of some pieces. They were usually changed: Dufay's Se la face ay pale is notated as Se la phace pale and Binchois's Adieu mes tres belles amours as Ayden matres belle. In some cases the titles are so drastically changed that their origin is hard to track down. The liner-notes discuss Dufay's Portigaler which causes specific identification problems.

In addition to intabulations, we get some of the original keyboard pieces from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch. Several bear the title of Redeuntes, which consist of an ornamented upper voice and a sustained or repeated note in the lower part.

I have greatly enjoyed this disc, not only because of the quality and the variety of the selected repertoire, but also because of the outstanding and imaginative performances by the three artists. The two keyboard instruments are not frequently used in recordings or in concerts. It is quite fascinating to hear the similarity between the recorder and the organetto, which are sometime hardly discernible. Clavisimbalum and harp are also a perfect match. Lovers of renaissance music should not miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Duo Enßle-Lamprecht
Corina Marti

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