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Medieval & Renaissance Recordings of the Year - 2005
It is time once again to select the best recordings of the previous year.
I have now been doing this formally for over a decade, and it seems that
each year presents a different sort of breakdown of worthy recordings.
For 2005, we have essentially two sets of three recordings, one of
fifteenth century Franco-Flemish polyphony, and one of fourteenth century
Italian Ars Nova secular music. So, without further ado, on to the
Recording of the Year
Micrologus has been doing superlative work in the domain of Italian Ars
Nova music for years. Although they sometimes depart from this repertory,
they return to it again & again, and somehow manage to maintain their
freshness. With a program devoted exclusively to Landini, they have
achieved their most sophisticated & polished presentation yet.
Landini: Fior di Dolceca
L'Ars nova di Magister Franciscus Cecus Orghanista de Florentia
Zig-Zag Territories 050603
Besides what I would term some crystalline sonorities that are
somewhat atypical for Micrologus, this interpretation serves to
clarify sonically the changes in style over the decades which produced
the Italian Ars Nova songs. It does not do this explicitly, but comparison
with Micrologus' own recordings of the somewhat earlier repertory, and
some other interpretations of Ars Subtilior composers such as Perugia
presents a clear picture. Whereas it seems unlikely that Landini could
ever be truly redefined at this point, his forward-thinking qualities
are highlighted here. This is both the most immediately appealing and
sophisticated recording of Landini's music to be produced to date, certain
to be a core member of any selective medieval discography for years.
Speaking of redefinition, while we do likely have more moments of
amazement coming from Obrecht, it is probably unrealistic to expect much
more novelty from A:N:S Chorus's ongoing series, produced as it is in
fairly close succession. Nonetheless, the fourth volume remains striking.
This is interesting polyphony, continuing to show new facets of Obrecht's
oeuvre, and continuing to impress with its interpretive strides.
Obrecht: Missa Fors seulement / Missa De tous biens playne
/ Missa Cela sans plus
A:N:S Chorus - Janos Bali
The first two named masses are in three parts, and so an expansion of
the discography on that basis, whereas the last is believed to be one
of Obrecht's final works and a pointer in the direction of the parody
mass. There is some wonderful material throughout. Already, I must
remark that Obrecht's mass output is more interesting overall than
Josquin's, and this release is further confirmation. Can a fifth program
still show us something new? It should be a fun challenge. It will
also be interesting to someday have other recorded interpretations of
these works, but it will be difficult for other performers to match
A:N:S's combination of clarity & intensity.
One composer who, despite some continued sporadic attention, has much
room for improvement in the availability and quality of his recorded
image is Busnoys. The significance of Busnoys to the development of
polyphony and secular song in the fifteenth century can hardly be
overstated, yet we are left with no recording which can be truly hailed
as representing his work in compelling fashion. The Orlando Consort
entered this arena, so to speak, in 2005.
Busnois: Missa "O crux lignum" / Motets / Chansons
Harmonia Mundi USA 907333
As intimated above, I cannot call this an outstanding interpretation,
but it does manage to be the best so far. Shockingly, we have no dedicated
recordings of Busnoys Chansons since the Nonesuch Consort in 1970. This
must change, and the Orlando Consort is simply not dynamic enough to
pull off a compelling entry to the field in limited space. The sacred
works are more appealing, including some newly attributed motets.
Perhaps this review is too equivocal, but do note that this recording
deserves its spot on the list. And a note to other ensembles: Tackle
Moving back to the Italian Ars Nova, we have the second recording devoted
specifically to Jacopo, a composer showing an interestingly "academic"
side to his secular counterpoint.
Jacopo da Bologna: Madrigalli e Cacce
This is the latest in a long line of related programs by La Reverdie,
and one which works well for me, as it adds some variety to my usual
interpretive choices. While not a release likely to make any waves,
it does slide nicely into a slot illustrating some appealing music.
It is somewhat amazing to think that our picture of Dufay could
continue to progress with new major works, but this does happen.
Perhaps we should be reminded that his birth year of 1397 was only
recently established. Interest in recording Dufay also remains high, a
pleasant fact. The Binchois Consort has once again taken up this banner
with a quality addition to the discography.
Dufay: Mass for St. Anthony Abbot / Binchois: Motets
Binchois Consort - Andrew Kirkman
After some early problems, I have come to find the Binchois Consort's
attention to detail in tuning & phrasing to be quite stimulating, and
they continue some good work here. The Dufay piece is rather similar
to some of his other music, lessening its impact somewhat, but it does
include some very appealing lyricism. The Binchois Consort has recorded
Dufay much more often than it has Binchois, but does present some Binchois
items here, including a lone isorhythmic motet.
I close the listing with another recording by Micrologus, mirroring the
opening selection. Here we have a mixed program illustrating earlier
music, much of it fairly well-known.
Alla Festa Leggiadra
Ballate, madrigali e danze all'epoca di Boccaccio (XIV sec.)
Micrologus Edizioni Discografiche
I do not typically reward programs which can be described as above, but
it in this case, the command & energy are simply too high to be ignored.
This is a wonderful program & interpretation, and would make an ideal
introduction to Italian Ars Nova music were it not for its relatively
Todd M. McComb
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