Le Chancelier - School Of Notre Dame / Sequentia
Quite suddenly it seems to be the turn of the Notre-Dame era to get first-rate, concentrated and intelligent attention from performing groups. Here to join the Gothic Voices record of "Music For The Lion-Hearted King" (Hyperion 0 CDA66336, 10/89) and the Hilliard Ensemble's collection of music by Perotinus (ECM/New Note 0 837 751-2, 2/90), we have a record devoted to the leading poet of the Notre-Dame movement, Philippe the Chancellor.
Nobody's work could be more welcome at the moment. One of the many astonishing and brilliant passages in Craig Wright's magisterial new book on Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris (Cambridge University Press: 1989) shows almost conclusively that Philippe and Perotinus were extremely close colleagues; they probably sat in opposite seats in the church daily for some 20 years before Philippe's death in 1236; they were joint signatories of several documents; and not only did Perotinus demonstrably set at least one text by Philippe but Philippe wrote several poems to existing music by Perotinus.
Further to that, the extremely informative note that Peter Dronke contributes to this new record mentions his own new (apparently still unpublished) reconsideration of Philippe's work, bringing its total to almost 90 songs. How much of this music for them is by Philippe himself, it is too soon to say; but he must in any case now take his place as one of the most important figures in thirteenth-century music. And a signal benefit of this record is not only that the texts are newly reedited and translated by Dronke but that they are given the literary explanation that seems indispensable for music of this kind.
In comparison with the two discs already mentioned, the ensemble singing of Sequentia may occasionally seem a little rough in intonation, blend and balance; but it is nevertheless very fine, distinguished by a forthright declamatory manner that is well suited to the mood of these heavily political and polemical poems. There might also be some room for suggesting that the emphasis on very slow declamation in the solo songs rather fights against the inbuilt momentum and mordant wit of the poems; Si vis vera takes 13 minutes when about three should have been plenty; though in the same breath one must add that Barbara Thornton and Benjamin Bagby here reaffirm their position as two of the most lucid and imaginative singers of medieval music that we have. Whatever my slight reservations in the light of other recent records, then, this is an important and highly impressive record.
-- Gramophone [11/1990]
Catalog Number: DHM77035
Label: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Composer: Philippe Le Chancelier
Performer: Barbara Thornton, Benjamin Bagby, Edmund Brownless, Eric Mentzel, Margriet Tindemans, Richard Corbeil, Stephen Grant