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"Recorders greate and smale"

Dir: Peter Van Heyghen

rec: Nov 2008, Basse-Bodeux (B), Église de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Ramée - RAM 0907 (© 2009) (66'09")

anon: And I were a maiden a 5; Gagliarda La traditora a 4; Gaillarde 7 a 4 [1]; Iay pryse amours a 3; Pavana El Bison a 4; Pavenne 7 a 4 [1]; Jacques ARCADELT (1507?-1568): Se'l foco in cui sempr'ardo a 5 [3]; Augustine BASSANO (?-1604): Almande 13 a 6; Pavane 15 a 6; William BYRD (c1540-1623): Fantasia a 5; Galliard a 6; Pavan a 6; Alfonso FERRABOSCO (I) (1543-1588): Decantabat populus Israel a 6; Interdette speranze a 6; Alfonso FERRABOSCO (II) (c1575-1628): Almande 9 a 6; Giovanni FERRETTI (c1540-after 1604): Un pastor a 6; Antoine DE FÉVIN (c1470-c1512): Adiutorium nostrum a 4; HENRY VIII (1491-1547): Taunder naken a 3; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Benedictus a 3; La my a 4; Orlandus LASSUS (c1530-1594): Lauda Jerusalem a 6 [7]; Luca MARENZIO (c1553-1599): Nel più fiorito Aprile a 6; Vincenzo RUFFO (c1508-1587): Amor io moro a 6 [6]; Valor preggi'et honor a 6 [6]; Philippe VERDELOT (c1480-c1552): Donna, se fera stella a 5 [2]; Philip VAN WILDER (c1500-1553): De vous servir a 5 [8]; Pour un plaisir a 5 [8]; Pour vous aymer a 5 [8]; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): A la fontaine a 6 [5]; Jouissance vous donneray a 5 [4]

(Sources: [1] Neuf basse danses ... imprimé ... par Pierre Attaignant, 1530; [2] Philippe Verdelot, Madrigali a cinque, libro primo, c1536/37; [3] Di Verdelot ... i madrigali a cinque voci, insieme con altri madrigali di varij autori, 1538; [4] Selectissimae ... cantiones, 1540; [5] Le sixiesme livre contenant ... chansons nouvelles ..., 1543; [6] Vincenzo Ruffo, Madrigali a sei, a sette e a otto voce, 1554; [7] Orlandus Lassus, Perornatae sacrae cantiones … liber secundus, 1565; [8] Mellange de chansons tant des vieux autheurs que des modernes, 1572)

Susanna Borsch, Raphaela Danksagmüller, Patrick Denecker, Thomas List, Sébastien Marq, Peter Van Heyghen, recorder

Music for consort was very popular in the 16th century. It was played all over Europe by ensembles of various sizes and instruments, both wind and strings. This disc sheds light on music for recorder consort. Today this kind of ensemble is also popular and some recorder consorts regularly make recordings, like the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet and the Flanders Recorder Consort.

This kind of ensembles mostly play 17th-century music, and often also arrangements of later music as well as contemporary pieces. The Belgian ensemble Mezzaluna concentrates on music for recorder consort of the 16th century, for up to six instruments of various ranges.

The subtitle of this disc says: "Music for the English Court Recorder Consort". The English court was special in that it was the only which had its own recorder consort. The first traces of music for recorder consort being played at court are from the late 15th century. But it was especially under Henry VIII that the recorder consort started to blossom as he was an avid recorder player himself. By the time of his death his collection of recorders consisted of 76 instruments.

An indication of the growing importance of the recorder consort was the arrival of the members of the Bassano family from Venice in 1540. They were not only players of the recorder, they also built instruments. This was an indication of the growing interest in Italian music. And this is reflected by the music chosen for the programme.

It is noticeable that relatively few pieces by English composers have been chosen. This is, as Peter Van Heyghen explains, mainly caused by the fact that most English consort music was written for a consort of viols rather than a consort of recorders, and that the range of the parts make many of these pieces unsuitable for recorders. Most works on the programme are originally written for voices, and this reflects the practice of the 16th century. At the time very few original instrumental pieces were played. Consorts of instruments, whether recorders, or cornetts and sackbuts, viols or violins, played mostly vocal music: motets, chansons and madrigals.

Two important manuscripts have been used for this programme. A number of pieces which date from the time of Henry VIII are from the Henry VIII's Manuscript which was compiled around 1520. The music of the 'Franco-Flemish school' dominated England at the time, and that is reflected by the manuscript. One of the composers is Philip van Wilder, who was Henry's favourite musician and who had an important position at his court. At the end of the programme some music has been taken from the Fitzwilliam Wind Manuscript. All pieces are in six parts, and with two exceptions written by Italian composers. In between pieces have been taken from various other sources.

It is underlined in the programme notes that very little is known as to exactly which music was played by the royal recorder consort. This programme just gives an indication of the kind of music such ensembles were playing. I think the selection of music on this disc has been a good one, as it brings a sequence of compositions of various character and in various forms. Extraverted and more intimate pieces alternate, and there are differences in the scoring of the ensemble and in tempo.

As the list of pieces played on this disc shows the programme offers music by some of the best composers from 16th-century Europe. Mezzaluna is a high-calibre consort whose performances are technically immaculate, with an admirable pure intonation and excellent ensemble. The fast pieces are played with great vivacity, the slower compositions are beautifully shaped. The sound of the ensemble is always transparent, which is particularly important in the 6-part pieces. Lassus' motet Lauda Jerusalem is just one example. It is a rather long piece - more than 6 minutes - but Mezzaluna keeps the listener's attention by its captivating style of playing.

The programme has been intelligently put together. The differences between the various items in the programme result in a nice diversity. At the same time the pieces are played in chronological order which allows the listener to follow the change in taste and complexity, from Franco-Flemish to Italian, and from 3- and 4-part pieces to compositions in 5 and 8 parts.

This disc can be recommended without any reservation. The booklet is - as all Ramée booklets - exemplary, and contains elaborate liner notes, a specification of the instruments and a list of the sources of all pieces in the programme.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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