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.
Joseph Kerman was a leading musicologist, music critic, and music educator from the 1950s to the 2000s. He reshaped our understanding and appreciation of Western classical music with his first book, Opera as Drama (1956), to his last, Opera and the Morbidity of Music (2008), including his studies on Bach, Beethoven, William Byrd, concertos, and more. He was a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, where he served two terms as chair of the Music Department. He wrote Listen together with his wife, Vivian Kerman.
'Artaxerxes is a rare beast, perhaps a unique one: an 'opera seria' composed to English words. Almost all of the numbers are solo arias; there are two duets, and an ensemble Finale newly composed by Duncan Druce to replace the missing ending. Arne owes much to Handel, but he tends to write more concisely. This studio recording is based on a staged production, and it shows in the natural way in which the characters interact. The recitatives—also new, composed by Ian Page—are delivered with conviction, flowing seamlessly into the arias. Christopher Ainslie as Artaxerxes woos with honeyed tone, while Caitlin Hulcup as his friend Arbaces impresses with her coloratura. 'The soldier, tir'd of war's alarms', recorded years ago by Joan Sutherland, goes to the excellent Elizabeth Watts as Arbaces' lover. There's much delectable writing for the woodwind and horns, all beautifully played. This lively account of a charming work will give much pleasure' (Classic FM)