Tuesday 2 November 2021

The Lost Codex of Avalon: a mix of old and new texts along with David Yardley's music in the style of Medieval and Renaissance to bring alive a mythic age

David Yardley The Lost Codex of Avalon; David Yardley, The Song Company, Sydney Chamber Choir, Sam Allchurch, Jess Ciampa, Pastance, Cristina Alís Raurich; Talisman

David Yardley The Lost Codex of Avalon; David Yardley, The Song Company, Sydney Chamber Choir, Sam Allchurch, Jess Ciampa, Pastance, Cristina Alís Raurich; Talisman

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 November 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An intriguing mix of old and new as the Australian composer/performer David Yardley weaves old-style modern music around a mix of ancient and modern texts evoking the world of King Arthur

If you go to the website Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there is a page for Mr David Yardley, currently High Commissioner to Kiribati and previously Counsellor at Australia’s Mission to the United Nations, New York. But David Yardley has a parallel career as musician and composer, mixing a love of Medieval and Renaissance music with a love of fantasy stories. His first disc was New Carols and Songs For Chaucer’s Pilgrims, taking existing texts which survive without music and giving them giving them an historically-informed vehicle to sing again.

With his latest disc, The Lost Codex of Avalon, David Yardley has taken a mix of Medieval and modern texts and created a new/old sound-world to evoke that of the Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory's 1485 poetic epic, Le Morte d'Arthur. Yardley sings to his own accompaniment on Medieval harp whilst other pieces are performed by The Song Company, Sydney Chamber Choir, conductor Sam Allchurch, period ensemble Pastance, percussionist Jess Ciampa, medieval keyboard player Cristina Alís Raurich. The texts move between Medieval ones which survive without their original music and more contemporary pieces by Anne Casey, Monique Bouchard, FC Leverett, and Clark Ashton Smith.

David Yardley
David Yardley

As something of a prelude, the disc begins with Yardley accompanying himself on the harp in a setting of words by the troubadour (and later a lawyer) Peire de Lunel (fl.1326-1384) in which the poet laments the plague of 1348, but with music written by Yardley in another plague year, 2020. The musical style is completely traditional, and to my relatively untutored ear, sounds both convincing and evocative.

Then follows a group of medieval carols, texts surviving without original music, which Yardley has created new versions. O, O, O, O! Exultet Mundus Gaudio is sung by Sydney Chamber Choir, in a lively setting which is clearly modern but with imaginative echoes of the period, perhaps Carl Orff is not too far away. And the choir makes a lovely clear, bright sound, occasionally accompanied by Jess Ciampa's drum. A Child is Boren is similar in style, lively and engaging and sung in intimate manner by the Song Company. We continue with another imaginative carol, Eya, Jhesus Hodie Natus: Blyssid Be That Mayde Mary, from Sydney Chamber Choir. 

The following section moves us further into the realm of fantasy with settings of more modern fantasy poetry. Anne Casey's Whisperings is performed by Yardley and the Song Company with instrumental contributions from Pastance. Freed from the Medieval words, Yardley's imagination seems be released too and I loved this gentle but imaginative song. Next comes a setting of words by Clark Ashton Smith dating from 1917. Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) was poet very much associated with the early fantasy genre. Tears of Lilith, from Yardley and The Song Company, proves to be a lively and rather intense piece. Then comes another Ashton Smith setting, O Gentlest Love, I have not Played for You upon the Lute of Jade (Apologia), a gently lyrical piece for choir and harp.

The Virtues of a Quene features contemporary words by Monique Bouchard, but written in Middle English and set by Yardley and performed by him and the Song Company, a convincing evocation of the Medieval that manages to be ancient and modern. 

The next section, Of Medieval Knights, Visions, Baptisms and Time-Forged Copper, gets more martial. The Carol of St George returns to Medieval carol texts, with Yardley's lively setting (hinting at the Agincourt Carol) sung by Sydney Chamber Choir, plus the drum of Jess Ciampa. A Vision of Julian of Norwich (I Saw Our Lord as a Lord in His Owne House) is a setting of Julian of Norwich, and is very much in the style of her own chant, here sung by soloist Chloe Lanshear with support from the Song Company and Yardley. We return to carols with the charming baptism carol, Whan Jhesus Cryste Baptyzed Was (Jhesus Autem Hodie) sung by the Song Company. 

Time-Forged Copper is features an organ solo from Cristina Alís Raurich, playing a reconstruction of a 13th century copper-piped portative organ. The sound quality is intriguing, and not dissimilar to a flute choir.

The final three items are grouped under the title, Of Minotaurs, Misted Woods and Lost Tales. First, Asterion setting poetry by FC Leverett, a complex evocation of the story of the Minotaur from Sydney Chamber Choir and the drum of Jess Ciampa. I have to confess that, evocative though Yardley's music is, I rather stumbled here owing to Leverett's poetry. We return to Clark Ashton Smith for Twilight on the Snow, with the Song Company giving an appealing sound quality to Yardley's music. Finally Yardley himself performs Lay of the Ash Tree, a 14th century Middle English text which is a translation from the 12th century French. An evocative and haunting end to an imaginative recital.

The description of the disc makes you worry that the pieces will be woefully mimsy, but Yardley's imagination rises above that. So much contemporary performance of Medieval music requires a leap of imagination in the recreation of the performance styles, so that this disc of modern recreations is only a step further. What lifts the recital is the way Yardley has gone to modern and 20th century fantasy poetry, which provides another thread.

David Yardley - The Lost Codex of Avalon
David Yardley (voice and harp)
The Song Company
Sydney Chamber Choir, conductor Sam Allchurch
Jess Ciampa (percussion)
Cristina Alís Raurich (copper-piped portative organ)

The disc is available from David Yardley's website.

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