How could anyone who loves English vocal music resist a recording with a title such as The Earliest Songbook in England? If that weren't enough enticement, the fact that the music is performed by the Gothic Voices leaves nothing to question except, "Where do I get my hands on a copy?" And when you read Christopher Page's notes on the source of these 23 songs, you discover that indeed, the title is not a gimmick: this really is the earliest songbook in England. Copied on "a few leaves of parchment" (probably around 1200), the pages eventually were used as "flyleaves for another book", an act that most likely saved them from destruction. According to Page, this recording contains almost all of the musicRead more found in that early booklet, which apparently wasn't discovered until 600 years after it was compiled. As is usual in these cases, we don't know who did the copying work nor who the composers were, but the songs are primarily concerned with the subject of Christmas and the festive time immediately following. Some are monophonic, others polyphonic, sometimes fairly elaborate in rhythm and in the part-writing. The singers--in this case alto, four tenors, and baritone, used in various configurations of one, two, and three parts--fully capture the spirit of these songs with clear and very pleasing, well-matched voices. We don't need a text (although full texts are provided) to tell us the joyful, celebratory purpose of many of the selections, and the sound is absolutely perfect, allowing appropriate distance for the voices to bloom and resonate while faithfully preserving the clarity of lines and texts. My only reservation is the placement of the five-minute-long song "In hoc ortus occidente". Although it's beautifully sung by alto Catherine King, its length and meandering melody kill the excitement and momentum set off by the rousing and attention-getting opening song, "Verbum patris umanatur O O". Lovers of early music and fans of the Gothic Voices will have this disc as a matter of course; but I would strongly suggest that others looking for a truly satisfying adventure along one of the more exotic paths through the forest of early music should not miss this either.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Verbum patris humanaturby Anonymous Conductor:
Period: Medieval Written: circa 1290; England