Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
This may not prove to be what you expect at first glance at the CD cover and program title, especially if you have had some experience as a listener to similar early-music compilations. What you won’t find here is a couple of singers with colorless, characterless voices intoning ancient melodies in strange dialects and with affected seriousness, to the careful plucking and thrumming of various dry-sounding strings and the toots of earnest if slightly-out-of-tune flutes and recorders. Instead, you’re treated to a soprano (Sabine Lutzenberger) and baritone (Martin Hummel) with voices as attractive and well-suited to this music as we could hope for, and a lutenist (Marc Lewon) who is both master of instrument and of the genre, in this case 15th-century songs. And the instrumental group Ensemble Dulce Melos is superb, both in its accompanying role and in the several tracks where it plays by itself, without voices.
You can read all about the set of part-books containing this remarkable music—and you’ll find a wealth of information in Reinhard Strohm’s liner notes—or you can just listen and be charmed by the instantly ingratiating songs, which range from sacred to secular, from dances (some known as “schwanzen”, or “tails”), to courtly songs, to hymns, to comic songs—and it’s all presented in a smartly organized program that honors the music’s relationship to particular styles and traditions of its period and geographic origin. There are no gimmicks here, just honest, straightforward interpretations of the songs—and happily, these are voices that you can listen to with ongoing pleasure. The instrumental interludes are ideally spaced both to expand the scope and variety of the program and to acknowledge the varied musical landscape of 15th-century Europe. The recording, made as a co-production with Bavarian Radio, is in first-rate sound. As I said at the beginning, this may not be what you expect, and if you’re willing to be pleasantly surprised, then you shouldn’t hesitate to try this exceptional and very satisfying release.
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