Dunstable: Sweet Harmony / Pitts, Tonus Peregrinus

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This is an interesting adventure for early music fans--70 minutes devoted to one of the most influential and respected English composers ever, but one who is rarely heard today except as an occasional contributor to early music compilations. (Another excellent all-Dunstable disc, from 1995 by the Orlando Consort on Metronome is still available.) This disc's title, Sweet Harmony, comes from the uniquely sonorous feature of Dunstable's music that inspired imitation by composers throughout Europe--the manner in which he used and combined thirds, whether in blocks or as coincidental occurrences among polyphonic parts. The result produces pleasingly vibrant sequences of harmonic consonance, often interrupted with surprising cross-relations or redirected with unusual "backward" harmonic shifts--and there are many times where the boldness of the harmony and complexity of the rhythm can only leave you with renewed respect for this 15th-century music's sophistication and inherent expressive qualities.

The eight voices of Tonus Peregrinus--two sopranos, alto, countertenor, three tenors, and bass--make the most of those expressive qualities, in clear, vibrato-colored timbre, captured in the ideally resonant acoustic of Chancelade Abbey in Dordogne, France. The program, which primarily consists of a group of Mass movements framed by two of Dunstable's better-known motets, concludes with a remarkable, recently-discovered Gloria in canon, reconstructed by Margaret Bent and first recorded on the abovementioned Orlando Consort disc in five parts--the original probably had six or seven (the full manuscript is not intact). Here, the singers fill out the existing reconstruction with their own realization, adding an accompanying two-part canon to more closely approximate the style and presumed structure of the original. However authentic or inauthentic, it's a marvelous piece and a sublime rendition that, along with the rest of these works, fully justifies the words of Dunstable's famous epitaph, which honors one "who had secret knowledge of the stars" and "scattered the sweet arts of music throughout the world." Outstanding! [12/7/2006]
--David Vernier,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8557341

  • UPC: 747313234127

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: John Dunstable

  • Conductor: Antony Pitts

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tonus Peregrinus

  • Performer: Alexander Hickey, Alexander L'Estrange, Antony Pitts, Francis Brett, Joanna Forbes, Kathryn Oswald, Rebecca Hickey, Richard Eteson, Timothy Watson