"Here is a true beakerful of the warm south: four centuries of song from herb-scented Provence, songs of love, songs of spring, songs and dances of the troubadours, traditional songs, motets sequences – a profusion of wonderful melodies, well-matched by the diversity of range and timbre of the performers… Martin Best displays his customary ease and wit, with those gliding ornaments that disappear discreetly into the fabric of the vocal line. Then there is Libby Crabtree with her clear, precise, yet glowing soprano voice… rollicking jollities… illuminating insert-notes."
…This CD takes us on a journey, as Martin Best describes it, through music from the mid-12th to the mid 16th Century not in any particular order, unless you programme the tracks chronologically but in a sequence, which enables variety and diversity. Sadly the original texts, in this mysterious language are not offered but they are given in clear translations with a fascinating essay by Best which makes you want to listen all the more to his choice of music.
For this recording, made some dozen years after Best first explored this repertoire with Nimbus he was able to use a significantly augmented set of singers male and female and instrumentalists, as can be seen above. You will also notice in the track listing below how the music is divided into eight sections. This he had done before but the divisions here are more detailed and contrasted. He also included traditional melodies from Provence, the sort that could have inspired Bizet seven hundred years later.
There are several traditional Provencal songs included. So to give an example of his approach the first section 'Women and Men' Best employs three folk-like songs with a simple repetitive melody suitable for dancing, a serious 'canso' by the only known Trobaritz who has left us a melody, that is Beatrice de Dia and then a pastoral probably by her contemporary Marcabru. In this latter song the man says to his lady that 'I am beguiled not by flowers but my your heart'. But the opening song is rather less courtly because in Ne l'oseray-je the servant sleeps with his mistress.!
There are also sacred works performed very evocatively, especially the chants from St. Martial, Lauda, Jocunda and the Sequence for Epiphany Epiphanium Domino both sung by the men. The women and men are divided in the motets Pucelete-je languis-Domine and then in the Alle Psallete. Both pieces are often recorded but here we hear each one three times, first the women then the men sing, then tutti - all very effective.
Martin Best sings fewer solo numbers than on other recordings but he does tackle Rudel's melismatic and extended Lancan li jorn with great intensity. Especial mention though goes to two other soloists, Kim Porter and Libby Crabtree the latter being especially memorable in the delicious Rossingnolet du bois. The season of May bringing with it romance and love, bird song and the delights of the natural world all of which are reflected, as so often in many of these songs, such as A 'lentrada dei tens clar. Perhaps suitably, they are usually in the form carols or round dances.
Altogether then a very happy and enjoyable recording and a memorable hour can be whiled away in the company of the music and the delightful performances found on this haunting disc.
Music Web International – Classical Review