IN THE LAST DECADES of the fourteenth century, composers working in the French tradition were sometimes musicians of profligate imagination. In addition to polyrhythms, extravagant melodic sequences and sudden dissonances, they sometimes created a sense of forward momentum in their compositions by sheer crowding of the texture, a legacy reaching back to the leading composer of the French Ars nova, Guillaume de Machaut (d1377). The music of Machaut, represented here by the exotic four-part ballade, Il m’est avis, was still being enjoyed in Italy around 1430 according to the theorist Ugolino of Orvieto, and even the most flamboyant aspects of late fourteenth-century style, fostered by Machaut’s successors, did not perish entirely in the 1400s.
This recording from Gothic Voices and Christopher Page—acknowledged as one of the finest performances of medieval music of the last twenty years—follows their many Gramophone Award-winning albums and celebrates the anonymous English composers of the fourteenth century. The combination of Page’s tremendous scholarship, the simple beauty of the singing and the extraordinary freshness of the music is irresistible.
Probably copied around 1200, this songbook was discarded within a generation or so and used as flyleaves for another book. It was poorly written, decayed and damp, marred by stains and the ravages of time, but because the pages were being used for another purpose, some unknown benefactor preserved this wealth of music and poetry. The songbook then remained hidden for some six hundred years.
This is one of the fine series of CDs which Christopher Page and his Gothic Voices made for Hyperion. The group were founded in 1980 and during the 1980s and 1990s made more than twenty recordings, starting with ‘A feather on the breath of God’ their influential and popular disc of music by Hildegard of Bingen.
These quartets are Juilliard specialties, and anyone wanting to hear this music played with a near ideal combination of virtuosity and humanity need look no further. Carter's quartets are not for the musically faint of heart: they are uncompromisingly thorny, intricate pieces that require lots of intense, dedicated listening. Very few people doubt their seriousness–or even their claims to musical greatness–but just as few people enjoy listening to them. Perhaps this spectacular set will encourage the adventurous to give them a shot. They're worth the time.
A note of caution first to the unobservant purchaser who picks up this CD, believing, in glee, that he has stumbled across a premiere recording of Alessandro Scarlatti's Dixit Dominus, newly come to light - or, if not, possibly by his son, Domenico, usually better known for his keyboard music. These works, indeed premiere recordings, are in fact by Domenico's uncle and Alessandro's younger brother, Francesco.