Monday, 14 January 2019

Stories in music: Roses, Lilies & Other Flowers from The Telling

The Telling - Gardens of Delight - FHR
Gardens of Delight - Ciconia, Hildegard of Bingen, Machaut, Zacara; The Telling; FHR  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 December 2018 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Medieval flowers explored in a haunting programme from The Telling

Most people familiar with the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) or the Stroud Green Festival will almost certainly have come across The Telling, a edievalM ensemble with a difference, which features soprano Clare Norburn who was co-founder and artistic director of BREMF and is artistic director of the Stroud Green Festival.

On this disc, Gardens of Delight from The Telling on FHR, Clare Norburn is joined by Leah Stuttard (medieval harp, frame drum, voice) and Ariane Prussner (voice) for a programme themed around Roses, Lilies & Other Flowers in Medieval Song which means that the ensemble can cast their net widely for a haunting selection of music by Ciconia, Hildegard of Bingen, Machaut, Zacara and more.


Both roses and lilies, of course, reference the Virgin Mary, whilst Hildegard of Bingen uses the image of greeness and lushness to reference the Virgin's fecundity. These analogies mean that the sense of separateness between sacred and profane music is very much lacking in music of this period, it might be a lyrical efflorescene towards a flower but it could just as easily be a sacred piece devoted to the Virgin, or even both. The music on the disc is organised by country, though even that classification does not really work as composers crossed and transcended boundaries.

 We start with a traditional Sephardic song, La rosa enflorese which makes for a beautifully haunting beginning and introduces us to The Telling's highly concentrated style. Finely focussed voices, with minimal vibrato, highly expressive and very concentrated with a single instrument accompanying, and, later on, no instrument at all. This is not the style of Medieval performance which seeks to re-interpret everything in terms of a period jazz-band (though there is certainly room for that style). Here we concentrate on the music, and on the text, with all three performers making something beautifully pared down.

In live performance the group uses narrative, dance and other elements to create a dramatic programme to bring the Medieval music to life. The clue is in their name, these are people who tell stories.

On this disc the stories are in the music, and there is plenty to enjoy. With moments like the pairing of Hildegard's Ave generosa and the procession from Ordo Virtutum which concludes the disc [The Telling presented a Hildegard programme at BREMF in 2015, see my review], you do wish that they could stay for a bit longer. So we must hope for a further disc!



ANON. (15th century) - La rosa enflorese
ANON. (late 15th century) - Pues que tu reyna del cielo
ANON. (13th century) - Rosa das rosas
Guillaume de Machaut (1300–1377) - De tout flors (instrumental)
ANON. (13th century) - Plus bele que flor • Quant revient et fuelle et flor • L’autrier joer m’en alai • Flos • O virgo pia • Lis ne glai • Amat
ANON. (c.1420) - Ther is no rose of swych virtu
Anon. (14th century) - Ad rose titulum (instrumental)
Johannes Ciconia (1370–1412) - O rosa bella, o dolce anima mia
ANON. (13th century) - Laude novella sia cantata
Antonio ZACARA DA TERAMO (c.1350–c.1415) - Un fiore gentil m’apparse
ANON. (15th century) - Der winter will hin weichen
ANON. (c.12th-13th century) - Unter den Linden
Hildegard of BINGEN (1098–1179) - Ave generosa
Hildegard of BINGEN Procession from Ordo Virtutum
The Telling (Clare Norburn, Leah Stuttard,  Arianne Prussner
Recorded at St Mary Magdalene, Sherborne, UK, 10–12 January 2018
First Hand Records FHR68 1CD

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • 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
  • Oper Köln delivers a colourful account of Ralph Benatsky? & Robert Stolz’ The White Horse Inn (★★★★) - operetta review 
  • A year at Lincoln: Aric Prentice and the choir of Lincoln Cathedral on Regent Records (★★★) - Cd review
  • Handel at Cannons: Chandos Te Deum and Chandos Anthem No. 8 from Adrian Butterfield, London Handel Orchestra and soloists (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Seeing out the old year and seeing in the new: Tony Cooper at the Tiroler Festspiele, Erl (★★★★) - concert review
  • Ancient and modern: Liam Byrne, a viola da gamba and a laptop at Baroque at the Edge (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Diverse tapestry: Clare Norburn's Burying the Dead at Baroque at the Edge (★★★★) - music theatre review
  • Rediscovering her Polish musical roots: violinist Jennifer Pike on the personal connections in her latest disc, The Polish Violin - interview 
  • Strong and vibrant: Tallis masses and motets from the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bach's Goldberg Variations - CD review
  • 2018 in opera and concert reviews - article
  • Concerto for silent soloists: my encounter with Gavin Sutherland, music director of English National Ballet - interview
  • Home


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