Thursday, 31 January 2019

Of arms and a woman: late medieval wind music inspired by Christine de Pisan

Blondel - Of arms and a woman - FHR
Of arms and a woman: late medieval wind music; Blondel; FHR
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 January 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An engaging selection of medieval wind music inspired by Christine de Pisan's writings

This delightful disc is inspired by the writings of Christine de Pisan (1364-1430) who, remarkably, produced a wide body of romantic poetry as well as Livre des fais d'armes et de chevalerie (The Books of Feats of Arms and of Chivalry) which just about defined chivalry and modern warfare for the Middle Ages, including the idea of the just war (fought by Kings in the name of God). There is only one surviving contemporary setting of Pisan's poetry, so here we have a wide selection of chansons which reflect the themes of her work in versions for Medieval wind ensemble performed by Blondel (Louise Anna Duggan, Emily Baines, Daniel Serafini, Lizzie Gutteridge and Belinda Paul) on First Hand Records. Whilst many of the works on the disc are anonymous, we also have music by Dufay, John Bedyngham, Gilles Binchois, Johannes Ciconia, Baude Cordier, Guillaume de Machaut, Solage, Robert Morton, Francesco Landini, and Josquin des Pres.

The result is 24 short tracks which engage with the melodic freedom of the music and delightful imagination of the scoring.
Blondel use a mixture of instruments, recorders, shawms, bagpipes, slide trumpets, sackbuts, frame drum tabor and tamburello, so that each item has a sound world matched to it, from the martial combination of shawms, sackbut and tabor to the more gentle ensemble of three recorders. For the anonymous Allez a la fougere we have the amazing sound of three bagpipes, and for Machaut's Aymi! dame de valour bagpipes and tamburello.

The playing is wonderfully engaging, and the players revel in the variety of colours that their instruments can achieve, whether it be the meaty sounds of the shawms or the gentler recorders. Whilst there is a freedom to the playing, there is less feel of improvisation than on some recordings of this music. Blondel does not come over as a medieval jazz band, and they seem to stick quite closely to the original chansons, in fact the CD booklet is careful to highlight the items (just two) which are arranged by members of the ensemble.

The CD booklet gives a fine background to the life and work of Christine de Pisan, and helpfully provides detail for each of the tracks, complete with the original text of the chanson and some background to the work. What we don't really get is an overview of why these particular songs were chosen, nor are we told what we are listening to. Are the players simply playing the multi-part chansons, replacing voices with instruments, or are they using manuscript sources which were intended for wind players. Given the academic detail in the CD notes (we are told which manuscript each item comes from), this sort of thing would be nice to know.

Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474)- Se le face ay pale
(2 soprano shawms, alto shawm, tenor sackbut, tabor)
(attrib. Guillaume DUFAY) - Or me veult bien Esperance
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms)
Guillaume DUFAY - Belle, veulliés moy retenir
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, frame drum)
John BEDYNGHAM (c.1422-c.1460) - O rosa bella
(alto recorder, 2 tenor recorders)
Gilles BINCHOIS (c.1400-1460) - Les tres doulx ieux du viaire ma dame
(alto recorder, 2 tenor recorders)
ANON. (arr. E. Gutteridge) - A Cheval, tout homme, a cheval
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, slide trumpet, tabor)
Reveillez vous piccars
(2 bagpipes, slide trumpet, tabor)
ANON. - Gardés le trait della fenestre
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, tabor)
Gilles BINCHOIS - Dueil angoisseus
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, tenor sackbut)
Johannes CICONIA (1370-1412) - A Le ray au solely
(2 alto recorders, tenor recorder)
Baude CORDIER (1380-1440) - Tout par compas suy composes
(2 alto recorders, tenor recorder)
Guillaume de MACHAUT (1300-1377)(arr. E. Baines & E. Gutteridge) - Aymi! dame de valour • Je vivroie liement
(3 bagpipes, tamburello)
SOLAGE (fl. late 14th Century) - Corps femenin par vertu de nature tant noblement
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms)
Robert MORTON (c.1430-c.1479) - Le Souvenir de vous me tue mon seul bien
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, tenor sackbut)
Guillaume DUFAY - Le Serviteur hault guerdonné
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms)
John BEDINGHAM (1422-1460) - Le Serviteur (Superno nunc emittitur)
(alto recorder, 2 tenor recorders)
ANON. - De quan quʼon peut belle et bonne estrener (alto recorder, 2 tenor recorders)
Anxci bon youre
(soprano shawm, alto shawm, slide trumpet)
Francesco LANDINI (c.1325-1397)- Adiu, adiu dous dame
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms)
ANON. - La Spagna
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, tenor sackbut)
ANON. (attrib. ENRIQUE) - Pues serviçio vos desplaze • Cançión contrahecha Pues serviçio vos desplaze, letra y punto
(alto recorder, 2 tenor recorders)
ANON. (arr. E. Gutteridge) - Allez a la fougere
(3 bagpipes)
JOSQUIN DES PRÉS (c.1450/55-1521) - Lomme arme • ANON. Lome arme (falsum) • Robert MORTON Lom arme
(soprano shawm, 2 alto shawms, tenor sackbut)
Gilles BINCHOIS - Files a marier ne vous mariez ja
(2 soprano shawms, alto shawm, tenor sackbut, tabor)
Blondel (Louise Anna Duggan, Emily Baines, Daniel Serafini, Lizzie Gutteridge and Belinda Paul)
Recorded at St Mary’s Church, Stoke-by-Nayland, 24-27 July 2015
FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR69 1CD [61.19]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Requiem Masses for murdered royalty: HerveNiquet & Le Concert Spirituel in Requiems for King Louis XVI & Queen Marie Antoinette by Cherubini & by Plantade (★★★) - concert review
  • In transcription: Berlioz arranged Liszt and Richard Strauss arranged Willner at Conway Hall (★★★★)  - concert review
  • A powerful journey: Sir Colin Davis complete live Berlioz recordings on LSO Live  - CD review
  • Faure's Requiem from the Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan School (★★★) - CD review
  • Something of a discoveryReverie, Icelandic art songs (★★★★) - CD review
  • Hugh Levick - Remnants of Symmetry (★★★★) - CD review
  • Everybody can! Nadine Benjamin's debut in Tosca (★★★★) - opera review
  • The main thing is to sing well and be a good performer: I chat to soprano Chiara Skerath, associate artist with The Mozartists and Classical Opera - interview  
  • Perhaps a film manqué: Stefan Herheim's Queen of Spades at Covent Garden (★★½) - opera review 
  • Lux: A trio of striking works to celebrate the Norwegian girls' choir's 25th anniversary (★★★★) - CD review
  • Early and late: Schumann from Robin Tritschler & Graham Johnson at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Stories in music: Roses, Lilies & Other Flowers from The Telling (★★★★) CD review
  • Bach in Cologne: Christmas Oratorio performed in the Kölner Philharmonie (★★★★★) concert review
  • Finding an identity in classical music: composer Shirley Thompson on her career and recent projects - interview
  • Unwrapping Venus: the music of Barbara Strozzi at Kings Place (★★★★½) - concert review
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