Gothic Voices - Echoes of an Old Hall - All Music
The Old Hall Manuscript, compiled over some years ending around the 1420s, is the main source of late medieval and early Renaissance English polyphony. It takes its name from St. Edmunds College, Old Hall Green, in Hertfordshire, where it was once owned. It is hardly a household name, and the commercial success of this Linn Records release may seem surprising, but it's worth checking out for several reasons. One is that the idea of recording a survey of a medieval manuscript tells listeners a lot about the music. One doesn't have to speculate about what hearers of the time considered important, for here, the selections made by the scribes themselves, who may have included the composers of some of the music. The contents capture the fascinating interchange between English and the Continent (mostly Burgundy and the Low Countries), with influences going in both directions. The evolution of the interval of a third into a consonance, forming the center of what became modern major and minor chords, was the work of the English, whereas the expressive marriage of music and text began on the Continent and was mastered in the lyrical works of Dunstable heard here. The small ensemble Gothic Voices selects quite a variety of works, from chant to mass movements, motets, French-language chansons, and a remarkable piece called Arae post libamina that is about the act of singing itself. It is the singing on this recording that is the main draw, even for listeners less interested in the musical history. The expressive singing of the group, which avoids simple divisions into lyrical and intellectual, brings these small pieces alive at a distance of 600 years. Other attractions: much of the music will be new to most listeners, and the sound, from Chichester's Boxgrove Priory, is idiomatic and clear. A delightful and fully accessible early Renaissance release.