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.
A surprising fact from the musicological realm is that Haydn wrote about the same number of operas as Mozart–though it's true that some of them were written for the marionette theater at Esterhaza, rather than the opera house. In other words, old "Gius[eppe] Haydn"–as the title page of this opera refers to him–was a master. Better known to some by its alternate title, L'anima del filosofo, Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice was written in 1791 for the King's Theater, Haymarket, during the composer's first English sojourn, but went unperformed there or anywhere else until 1950. The libretto, by Carlo Francesco Badini, is based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, with its decidedly unhappy ending to the story (Euridice dies a second time, Orpheus is poisoned, and the Bacchantes perish in a storm). While the score as a whole does not possess the kind of momentum or dramatic sweep one finds in Mozart, it nonetheless is vintage Haydn: highly imaginative in its use of a large orchestra, with numerous fine choruses and beautiful arias. A strong cast has been assembled for this recording, with Cecilia Bartoli a special delight in two roles–Euridice, a lyric role requiring remarkable agility, and the Genio (or Sybill), originally written for a castrato, whose one aria ("Al tuo seno fortunato") is a coloratura tour de force. The score is played with marvelous fluency by the Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of Christopher Hogwood, contributing to a realization that is, in every respect, elegantly informed. (Ted Libbey)