When you’ve got a good thing going, why mess around with it? That seems to be the philosophy that’s guided this amazing quartet to an unbroken string of 10 highly acclaimed recordings–and you can add this one to the list. Sure, the group replaced one of its original members a couple of years ago, but you’d be hard pressed to hear any difference in the ensemble’s patented tonally clear, impeccably tuned, “like-one-voice” quality. And you certainly can’t find much if anything to fault regarding vocal technique, interpretation, or effective translation of theory and scholarship into practice. No, these four women have found an ideal niche and never have varied from the very highest standard of musicianship and quality presentation.
This new recording features “Songs to the Virgin from 13th-century France”, and in typical fashion the group has not only carefully culled the repertoire from original manuscript sources (from France and, in two instances, from the Codex de Las Huelgas in Spain), but also in its performances utilizes current linguistic research into pronunciation of both French and French Latin from the early 13th century. The music ranges from mono- and polyphonic conductus to several solo chansons. All but one of the pieces are anonymously composed, a monophonic conductus by Perotin being the exception. Fans of Anonymous 4 will be right at home with the chant styles and the songs (each of the singers takes a solo turn in the four chansons), enjoying that familiar “one voice” quality in the unison pieces and the exciting interplay of lines in the more complex and lively selections. Is the group’s sound just a bit mellower and slightly darker than in years past? Perhaps, if you listen very carefully, you’ll notice a few more shades of color have been added to these singers’ usual bright, primary hues. And, if the past is any guide, no one who listens to these four women sing will be listening casually–the voices are just too compelling and the music too beautiful to do otherwise. The Harmonia Mundi recording team also has done just a few things right with this ensemble over the years, and they do it again here. When you’ve got a good thing going. . .