Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry (Medieval Gardens in Music) - Orlando Consort
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, Classical
This beautiful CD of music from the 13th to 16th centuries in France, England, Spain, Italy, and the Low Countries finds the all-male Orlando Consort centering their attention on texts having to do with the garden and flow... more »
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This beautiful CD of music from the 13th to 16th centuries in France, England, Spain, Italy, and the Low Countries finds the all-male Orlando Consort centering their attention on texts having to do with the garden and flowers. They open with a beautiful chanson by Machaut and his unique technique of playing melodies and texts off one another simultaneously to make a stunning blend--an ideal floral arrangement, if you will. The Virgin Mary is often referred to in floral terms, so many of these works are religious in nature, and there's a terrific motet by Brumel from The Song of Songs. Tempi and textures vary, so that there's never a sense of tedium. The CD comes with a grandly illustrated booklet, filled with reproductions, in brilliant color, of Medieval and Renaissance art. The idea, the music making, the presentation are all ravishing; this is already one of the best CDs of 2006. --Robert Levine
Original but flawed concept
Maddy Evil | London, UK | 06/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In this very visual CD, to some extent pre-empted by their earlier recording entitled Food, Wine, & Song - Music and Feasting in Renaissance Europe (HMU907314), the Orlando Consort present a rich and varied programme of music spanning more than 3 centuries (c.1250-1590), both sacred and secular alike. The concept is original and interesting, accompanied by 2 lucidly written essays by Sir Roy Strong and Susan Hitch, and even a Medieval-inspired garden design by Christopher Bradley-Hole, for the horticulturally enthusiastic (to 'turn...into reality' or for 'picturing...in your mind's eye as you listen to the music', liner notes p.15).
However, this striving to present an 'original' concept results in a programme which in truth is only partially successful. Many of the texts draw upon allegory, particularly in the various settings of the Song of Songs (tracks 7, 12, 14, 16, 17, 21 and 24). In Medieval interpretation (and analogous to the tradition of 'amour courtois'), the Song of Songs was seen as alluding to the relationship between the Virgin Mary and the adoring believer, hence the strong association of such texts with the feasts of the Ascension (August 15) and Nativity (September 8) of the Virgin. Elsewhere, conventional symbolism portraying Mary as the 'rose' who bore Christ (tracks 5 and 18) is exploited, and 2 pieces - Trebor's 'Passerose de beaute' (track 4) and Agricola's 'Royne des flours' (track 9) - draw upon religious allegory whilst being simlutaneously placed within the courtly love tradition.
Susan Hitch briefly touches on some of this (p.12), but its significance in the context of this programme is overlooked - that rather than imparting much information on Medieval and Renaissance Gardens (which at any rate would be difficult for the texts based on the [pre-Medieval] Song of Songs, written c.350-200 B.C.!), most works shed more light on Medieval/Renaissance allegorical conventions (see below *1). This in turn affects the performing context. The bold assertion that the music recorded here 'must once have been heard in the open air' and 'would have found its setting in 2 contrasting garden styles' (liner notes, p.8) seems problematic, particularly for the sacred works - primarily intended for ecclesiastical performance, and in any case unlikely to have been performed as minimalistically as here (see below *2).
The performances themselves are generally tight, both in ensemble and intonation, although occasionally the over use of vibrato results in readings which are a little saccharine (and probably anachronistic). In all, despite the originality of the concept, this CD is not a patch on earlier recordings by the Orlando Consort which are both more polished and programmatically more convincing - in particular, Dreams in the Pleasure Garden, The Saracen and the Dove: Music from the Courts of Padua and Pavia and Mystery of Notre Dame Chant & Polyphony. If you've not come across this group before and can forgo the flashy packaging, these 3 discs are well worth discovering instead.
*1 - In addition, flowers were associated with youthfulness, hence the correlation of the theme with 'amour courtois', evident in many of the texts here (see tracks 1, 4 etc; also prose examples such as Le Jardin des Nobles, Paris BN MS fr193)
*2 - This is especially true of the Spanish works - a document preserved in Seville Cathedral dated 1586, possibly written by Guerrero himself, not only confirms the importance of instrumental participation (cornett, shawm, recorder, dulcian), but even states that 'hearing the same instrument always wearies the listener' (see Robert Stevenson, Spanish Cathedral Music in the Golden Age, 1961, p.167)"
An Economy Based on Beauty
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 06/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"[Authors' preface, months later: I should have given it FIVE STARS.]
In the "illuminated" (hand-painted) manuscripts of the 14th-16th Centuries, one sees a world of lost beauty. The skies were bluer, the breezes more sweetly scented, the birds more abundant, the stars more numerous, and it was blessedly quiet. Quiet enough to hear a lute in a garden. Quiet enough that the sounds of threshing and fulling cloth must have mingled pleasantly with the voices of monks and confraternalists chanting the Hours. A look at the clothes and furniture depicted in the paintings proves surely that beauty took precedence over comfort. Even the sheep-cotes and fish weirs of the era show an attention to beauty of design, and tourists today pay fortunes to trot through the crumbling ruins of the handsome cottages and sumptuous palaces of the late Middle Ages.
A choice selection of miniature paintings is reproduced in this booklet/CD package from The Orlando Consort. The booklet is 114 pages of pictures, song texts, and essays concerning gardens, floral symbolism, and music from France, England, Spain, Italy, and Burgundy. The CD includes motets and chansons by composers such as Guillaume Machaut, Walter Frye, Juan Vasquez, Cipriano de Rore, and Alexander Agricola. As a musical program, frankly the selection is too diverse and inclusive to make concert sense, but no law requires you to listen to the CD all in one sitting. [That's my response to the intelligent but over-critical previous review by Maddy Evil.] Piece by piece, The Orlando Consort has never sounded better or more sensitive to stylistic nuances.
Virtually all music from the late Medieval - early Renaissance is either three or four part composition, and whatever anyone tells you, performance by voices one-on-a-part was the norm and is the most satisfactory. This is particularly true in chansons, which are sung poetry above all. You've got to hear words! even if you don't understand the language. The Orlando Consort, an ensemble of four male singers, always delivers the poetry with emotive clarity. They also have a rare mastery of the rhythmic devices that make this music challenging and interesting. Hocket is an example. Hocket is the inclusion of silences in the melodic lines - not mere rests! melodic silences, often lasting only a fraction of a beat. When hockets are alternated in lines of polyphony, the notes seem to be tossed like balls between the singers, and the lines of melody interpenetrate each other like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Hocket requires intense togetherness and reckless confidence. The Orlandos also have superb tuning, the best of any vocal ensemble singing early music; there are special challenges in this repertoire that they have to overcome. The pre-Dufay selections on this disk, for instance, require Pythagorean tuning, while the later pieces sound best with Mean tuning; the former requires perfect fourths and sixths, while the latter demands perfect thirds, lower than modern piano tunings, and proportionate fifths. Modern tempered tuning just won't work. Of course, all the technique in creation wouldn't matter if the singers didn't have lovely voices, because, like everything in the Age of Beauty, music was above all intended to be beautiful. This is a beautiful little package of words, pictures, and music. It would make a stunning Valentine."
The Constant Gardener
S. E. Vogiatzis | Athens, Greece | 05/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gardening is not one of my strong points. Actually I hardly notice them, unless we are talking about the legendary English ones or one of the marvelous Versailles. In this particular case, gardens are not only wonderful, fine and well maintained. They are medieval. And the music of this CD is most becoming to their beauty.
I have to confess that though I am a profound fan of sacred early music I am not equally attracted to the somehow light mood of the secular scores of the same period. This Harmonia Mundi compilation, though secular in subject, achieves a musical result of the magnitude we experience in sacred works: Soothing and meditating. Accompanied by a booklet full of gardening information and exquisite pictures.
In short, a magnificent and remarkable work. And not without reason: Paradise Lost was actually a garden...