musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"Landini's Trecento"

Liber/William Hudson
concert: Nov 24, 2011, Muiden, Muiderslot

DONATO DA CASCIA (2nd half 14th c): I'˛ perduto, madrigal a 2; Un bel girfalco, madrigal a 2; FRANCESCO LANDINI (c1325-1397): Per seguir la speranša, ballata a 2; GHERARDELLO DA FIRENZE (c1320-1362/62): I' vo bene a chi col bene, ballata a 1; GRIMACE (mid-14th c): └ l'arme, Ó l'arme, virelai a 4; GUILLAUME DE MACHAUT (c1300-1377): Donnez, signeurs, ballade a 3; Foy porter, virelai a 1; Qui es promesses de Fortune/Ha! Fortune/Et non est qui adiuvat, motet a 4; RemŔde de Fortune: Dame, de qui toute ma joie, ballade a 4; JOHANNES CICONIA (c1370-1412): Una panthera, madrigal a 3; LORENZO DA FIRENZE (?-1392/93): Donne, e' fu credenza, ballata a 1; Sento d'amor la fiamma, ballata a 1; MATEUS DE SANCTO JOHANNE (?-1391): Fortune, faulce, parverse, rondeau a 4; NICCOLĎ DA PERUGIA (2nd half 14th c): Ben di fortuna, ballata a 2; Chi 'l ben sofrir non p˛, ballata a 2; Non dispregiar virt¨, madrigal a 3; Povero pellegrin salito al monte, madrigal a 2; Tal mi fa guerra, madrigal a 2; Tosto che l'alba, caccia a 3

Andrew Rader, alto; Daniel Carberg, William Hudson, tenor; Matthew Leese, baritone

The highly sophisticated music of the 14th century in Italy and France is quite popular among early music ensembles and early music lovers. But it is not that often performed in public concerts. It is certainly not suitable for large venues as the text requires the utmost attention from the performers and the audiences. The subtleties of the settings by the likes of Landini and Machaut is lost if there is too much reverberation. Therefore one of the chambers of the Muiderslot - a medieval castle east of Amsterdam - was the perfect place to listen to this repertoire, performed by the ensemble Liber, directed by William Hudson.

The programme was called "Landini's Trecento" which is a little imprecise as the term trecento is mostly associated with Italian music of the 14th century, and this programme also included French music by Machaut, Grimace and Mateus de Sancto Johanne. Their music is usually called Ars nova. According to the ensemble's website the programme "Crowned with laurels" would be performed, but the list of pieces at the concert was considerably different from the programme as given at the website. French and Italian repertoire was intermingled, and there was also a mixture of scorings, from one to four voices.

It resulted in an captivating programme with compositions of a different character. With madrigal, ballata and caccia the main forms in vogue in Italy were represented, in pieces by Donato da Cascia, Niccol˛ da Perugia, Lorenzo da Firenze, Francesco Landini, Gherardello da Firenze and Johannes Ciconia. The French Ars nova was presented in the forms of the rondeau, the ballade, the virelai and the motet. One of the features of this repertoire is the close connection between text and music. This is partly due to the fact that many composers were also poets, like Machaut and Landini. This aspect was given much attention by the four singers of Liber. Many pieces contain long melismas but there are also more syllabic episodes. And in particular here the singers explored the way the composers expressed words in music.

This repertoire is technically demanding. The melismas require a perfect breathing technique and in the more syllabic episodes the delivery has to be immaculate. There was little to complain in this respect. Only now and then some phrase endings were a little insecure. The only real disappointment was Machaut's Foy porter which was sung solo by Andrew Rader. The performance was hampered by a nervous vibrato and the top notes were rather stressed. Otherwise the solo pieces were impressively sung, and in the compositions in two, three and four parts the blending of the voices was perfect.

One notable aspect of Liber's interpretations is the fact that no instruments were used. In many - probably even most - performances and recordings this repertoire is presented with a combination of one or two voices and one or a couple of instruments. It was therefore interesting to hear it performed with voices only. In Machaut's Donnez, signeurs one voice was sung whereas the other two were vocalized. This is a practice which I have noticed in various recordings of renaissance repertoire. I am not convinced that this is in line with the performance practice of the time the music was written. I would like to know whether there are any historical sources which give reason to believe this was indeed practised.

According to the ensemble's website the programme "Crowned with laurels" is going to be recorded. That is definitely something to look forward to.

Johan van Veen (ę 2011)

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