An interesting and intelligent program… Gorgeous music, gorgeously sung with absolute transparency.
– Gramophone [5/2014]
Renowned for their unearthly vocal blend and virtuosic ensemble singing, the four women of Anonymous 4 combine historical scholarship with contemporary performance intuition to create their magical sound. On their 1994 album Love's Illusion, the extraordinary quartet brought 13th century motets of courtly love from the Montpellier Codex to the top of the classical charts – spending 29 weeks on the Billboard Top 200. Twenty years later, they return to the source – this time exploring songs with texts thatRead more juxtapose desire for the earthly lady Marion and adoration of the heavenly Virgin Mary.
R E V I E W: 3763860.zz3_MARIE_ET.html MARIE ET MARION • Anonymous 4 • HARMONIA MUNDI 807524 (SACD: 56:02 Text and Translation)
This is the second collection of motets from the Montpellier Codex (Mo), H196, that these ladies have offered (Fanfare 18:2). This program includes 20 motets from the celebrated codex and four solo songs, one for each member. While this is a repertoire that I find harder to keep track of than other medieval collections, since I don’t have an edition or other reference work, I’ve added little to my ongoing discography since that issue. The only full CD that has appeared in the meantime never arrived for review, a considerable loss since there were five otherwise unrecorded motets in a group of 29. The motets on this disc include eight that have never been recorded to my knowledge, and the others include A la clarte qui tout, recorded twice (a shellac and a mono LP), and En mai quant rosier, recorded only once on an LP. I cite the titles in short here, but the track list provides the correct titles in full and the Mo numbers assigned to the codex. A surprise comes on the last track, Plus bele que flor, previously recorded by Christopher Page and Anonymous 4 (on that earlier CD). In her notes, Susan Hellauer explains that the earlier program, devoted to courtly love, included this motet by exception, for the three courtly love song texts conceal a devotion to the Blessed Virgin in the top-voiced text. She calls it “the loveliest of the handful of 4-voice motets in the Codex.” This collection, in contrast to the earlier one, juxtaposes motets of courtly love and love of the Blessed Virgin, so it was appropriate to conclude with a new version of this piece. This explains the title of the disc, Marie et Marion: Mary, the Blessed Virgin, and Marion, the shepherdess of the medieval pastourelles, sacred and profane love.
Looking at the recording premieres, in Ave lux luminum (Mo 56) we hear the motetus first, then the three voices together, two Latin verses in praise of Mary. Diex qui porroit (Mo 278) is quite the opposite, two French texts about the sorrow of lost love. Like the majority of the motets, it is not singled out for comment in the notes. L’autre jour par un matinet (Mo 261) brings together two French texts that tell the same story, the oft-repeated encounter of the knight and the shepherdess, but only the knight’s version ends with her yielding to his advances. Or voi je bien (Mo 273) is placed in the concluding group that mixes sacred and profane love. The triplum is a French text telling of the lover who has never confessed his love for the lady he cherishes. The motetus is a Latin text begging the Blessed Virgin to intercede for one who is devoted to her. It ends delicately, at less than three minutes the longest of the motets sung here. Plus joliement c’onquas (Mo 257) combines two French texts, both telling of a man’s love. One has won the heart of his lady and pledges fidelity to her, while the other suffers because he cannot confess his love for fear that she will reject him. Pour chou que j’aim (Mo 299) is another example of sorrow expressed in two French texts, one lover happy with his lady despite the envy of many, the other cherishing a lady but not daring to confess it to her. Quant florist la violete (Mo 135) is another take on Mo 261, one French text with the shepherd telling his devotion to his love, the other with the knight telling of his unsuccessful attempt to seduce her. Sans orgueil et sans envie (Mo 225) is a motetus with two untexted melodies, heard first as a solo and then with all three parts. Here the shepherdess is musing about Robin’s sweet song.
If these are mostly tales of profane love, the program includes some balance. The first group on sacred themes includes four more motets in addition to Mo 56, while the concluding group adds a third “Marie-Marion” Motet to Mo 273 and Plus bele que flor, the one repeated from the earlier collection. In between are motets on profane love, including a quadruplum, Trois serors (Mo 27). It would be a mistake to play the disc straight through, possibly turning it into background music as attention flags. The brief pieces sound too much alike without close attention to the texts, which after all can only be followed one line at a time, requiring the repeated hearing of each selection. As the examples cited suggest, there is a great deal of variety to discover. Underlying everything are the tenors borrowed from liturgical chants. These can provide a whole new source of study (indeed, the earlier disc grouped together on the disc several motets that use a single tenor, one such group at the beginning and another at the end). I can account for recordings of only 116 motets out of over 300 in the codex. I can offer nothing about the four solo songs, for all are unfamiliar to me and the notes ignore them except for citing the manuscript sources. Each singer makes her song her own. Is it too much to hope that other Medievalists will reduce the vast number of unrecorded motets from this codex, the most important 13th-century collection of music that we have? We can only hope that they will be as successful as Anonymous 4.