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Missa Ecce ancilla Domini; Proprium De angelis & Le Banquet du Voeu (various composers)
Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard
Virgin Veritas VBD 5 61818 2 3 [64.06+59.34]

This double CD gave great pleasure during a long drive through the Basque mountains in Spain, whilst covering the San Sebastian Festival for S&H. Modestly priced, perhaps you should read no further - order these 1989/1992 re-issues and enjoy!

However, once again I cannot forbear commenting upon presentation, which is inadequate, as so often with such packaging. This programme is pleasantly varied, rather in the manner that David Munro used to do in his concerts, when we were becoming familiarised to medieval music. All the music comes from mid-15th Century. To hook the prospective purchaser's interest, there is a lot of historical speculation, laced with 'likely to have been performed' - - 'not certain that it is indeed by Dufay', etc.

To take the second CD first, this is a marvellous Mass by the composer who (ever since my involvement with Musica Reservata in the late '60s) always seems to grab me as the best of his time. The Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Agnus Dei) is expanded with a Mass Proper (Introit, Gradual etc) 'significantly related' by their underlying chants, Beata es an elaboration of Ecce ancilla - that relationship, which will have eluded most listeners, could have been clarified with a couple of music examples.

They 'may have formed part of a cycle for the Order of the Golden Fleece established by Philip the Good of Burgundy', if that helps you? The same good Philip held a huge banquet to vow destruction of the Great Turk. Outdoing our familiar 4 & 20 blackbirds, who sang after being cooked, he had 'a famous pie' on his table, which opened to reveal twenty-eight minstrels who, we are invited to suppose, are singing some chansons of the time in four entremets - groups of entertainments between the courses (the impeccable 1989 recording does not attempt to simulate the cheerful hubbub of a 15th C. banquet!).

Those chosen to represent that occasion are by the ensemble's eponymous Gilles Binchois and others. The words of medieval chansons are fascinating in themselves and a mine of social background; unfortunately, none are given with these CDs. The musicians are listed, many of the singers doubling on instruments. You can usually work out approximately who is playing what, but that can so easily and usefully be indicated with a system of coded superscripts, taking up no extra space. Admittedly the words of the Mass Ordinary are very familiar, but less so those of the Proper, which should have been supplied, together with some basic information about Dufay and Binchois, about whom we are told nothing.

Have no fears about the performances, which are impeccable, nor the recordings made in France & Switzerland. Le Banquet du Voeu would make a good contribution to the pauses between the courses of your next dinner party!

It would however be very interesting to learn from the record companies the costs implications of the skimpy presentation so often imposed and executed, sometimes unthinkingly, and not by musicians, so it would appear here.

If you welcome having these matters brought to your attention in MotW & S&H, please send an email to Len@musicweb-international.comor to say so?

Peter Grahame Woolf

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