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Len Mullenger:

Music of the Flemish Renaisaance
 works by Fabri / Busnois / da Pesaro / Ockeghem / Rampollini / des Prez / Verdelo / de la Rue / Susato
Capilla Flamenca
Recorded 22 -24 September 1996.Irish College, Leuven. Belgium DDD
Naxos 8.554516 [54'57"]
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This is a quick race through musical styles and composers of the dominant Franco-Flemish music of 15/16 C. There may still be some classical music enthusiasts who stop short of this period. Most of the items are secular and many last only a minute or so. They are predominantly vocal, with a few instrumental interludes, often settings of popular chansons of the time. The group consists of 5 singers and 4 instrumentalists (recorders and violas da gamba) from Flanders, and the recording was made in Leuven, 1996. Their English diction is excellent in Pastime with good company by Henry VIII, which finds itself included because of links with a French chanson of the time.

The most substantial pieces are by Ockeghem, one of my particular favourites [see reviews in S&H and in MotW under Composers from other Countries]; his Ma maitresse for tenor, baritone and bass voices makes a splendid, deep sonorous sound, and Paul van Loey is very agile on the recorders in pieces by Fabri. There are humorous songs by Josquin, The cricket and William goes and warms himself. The programme ends with a mellifluous five-minute realisation of a song by Pierre de la Rue Mijn hert altijt heeft verlanghen.

The acoustic from the reverberant Chapel of the Irish College is just right, but it is a bit disconcerting to have total silence between tracks. The production is very thorough, impressively so for the price, with good notes to orient the numerous composers, and the 14 page booklet has full texts with translations. A simple numerical system shows which musicians take part in each of the 22 tracks.

It is an enjoyable CD which just dips a toe into a vast repertoire. Hopefully, it will encourage further exploration of this endlessly fascinating genre. I would suggest going on to Flemish Polyphony (Capella Sancti Michaelis/Currende Consort - Erik van Nevel) Eufoda 1160-69.


Peter Grahame Woolf

and Harry Downey adds:-

The intention of this disc is to give an indication of the music that could be heard in Europe in the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth centuries - or to be more precise, music with a Flemish connection. At that time, the region was the artistic hot-house of Northern Europe. Further south Florence was a rival but in many ways during this Renaissance period Flanders was supreme. Based upon commercial prosperity and the peaceful expansion of France by marriage and treaty, music and musicians flourished.

Musicians came and went in their highly cosmopolitan world. Quite regularly composers would travel hundreds of miles to a court or patron in another land. Flemish musicians were among the best of their time and their services were highly prized. Like present-day footballers they went to the highest bidder and were to be found in England, Spain, Italy and almost anywhere else in Europe. Perhaps even further afield if we investigated.

The twenty-two items on this recording then - inevitably they are short pieces - have a link with the region. Even that prolific writer Anon, it seems, was Flemish. Surprise, surprise, Henry VIII makes an appearance too, by way of having employed Flemish musicians at his court and one of his songs that is included is allegedly based on a French chanson.

Secular music, devotional works, music, love songs, music for a court in mourning, dances, comedy songs all in an assortment of languages make up this real mix-n-match selection.

Capilla Flamenca - a group new to me - is made up of four male voices, the fourth a counter-tenor, and three viola da gambas and recorder player (who can switch between descant, tenor and treble). All the instruments are copies of period pieces. The majority of the singing is unaccompanied and the instrumentalists have relatively minor roles in the recording. The most striking pieces were those employing the counter - tenor whose line is given the freedom to soar away freely. The acoustic is a big resonant one and the recording is exceptionally good throughout - one of the best I have heard for some time.

Noteworthy in an inevitably 'bitty' programme were, the opening bass solo in a Gregorian Requiem Aeternam - a fine individual voice which proved to be so with all the others - and the piece which gave its name to the disc "Ach Vlaendere vrie" (Oh, Flanders Free ) a 3-part patriotic song. There was a moment of real knockabout with a treble recorder and drum and 4 part singing ( 1'03" - subject Bacchus ). A snatch of Josquin des Prez on "El Grillo" ( "Th e cricket" ) and a song in German for tenor by Heinrich Isaac "Innsbruck I must leave you" with the simplest of instrumental forces in a delightful interlude. The Henry VIII song - in absolutely impeccable English - was Pastime with good company - a pleasant three verse offering.

The programme as it was presented has the order and shape of a live production and there may well be such a production. On disc I enjoyed it and it deserves to do well.


Harry Downey


Peter Grahame Woolf

Harry Downey

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