Notes and Editorial Reviews
This fine disc has worn very well over the last decade and a half.
This disc dates from 1996 and was one of the first opportunities that British audiences had to appreciate the art of the American vocal ensemble, Lionheart. They constructed something of a concept album in this disc for Nimbus, one predicated on the idea — quite loose in some respects — of ‘Images of Women in Medieval England’.
Interspersed throughout the disc one will find movements from the Sarum Chant, the prevailing Catholic plainsong in use in England until the time of the Reformation. It serves as the disc’s spinal cord in the exploration of the various types of image summoned up by Lionheart: The Beloved, The Unfathomable, The Maternal, The Desired and The Triumphant. Into each of these specific categories one will find music by composers such as William Cornysh, John Dunstable, Richard Pygott and John Browne, as well as the expected variety of anonymous texts and settings.
Lionheart is notable for the purity of its articulation and for the tonal blend it cultivates. This allows the six singers to respond equally to the Sarum Chant as to the bawdier settings. The quiet and contemplative
Quam pulcra est from the chant — a text used by Dowland, by the way, in the sole contribution from him in this disc — is as persuasive as the wicked double entendres of Cornysh’s
Blow thi horne hunter. Those who know only this composer’s more austere sacred settings will be amazed by the filth which he takes such obvious pleasure in depicting.
But it’s also Cornysh who provides some of the disc’s most moving utterances in
Adew mes amours. In this respect, though, is the longest setting, by John Browne, that perhaps resonates the longest.
O regina Mundi clara is a fourteen minute setting of considerable accomplishment, a structure of artful integrity, and the culmination of the qualities of textual fidelity and architectural probity that Lionheart displays throughout. Fittingly, only the
Beata Dei genitrix follows it.
This fine disc, which includes texts and translations, has worn very well over the last decade and a half.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Lionheart is a young ensemble based in Manhattan, where it produces is own concert series on the Upper West Side (the same might have been said of Anonymous 4 five years ago). Its members have extensive credits with other New York early-music groups, particularly Pomerium. The ensemble makes a strong debut for Nimbus with My Fayre Lady, a survey of late-medieval English music.
The well-planned program, mixing songs to the Lady and more worldly ladies, begins and is interspersed with plainchant from the Sarum rite, taken from a processional printed in Paris in 1502. The Sarum rite represented the liturgical texts as they were chanted at Salisbury Cathedral, but was used more generally elsewhere in Britain as well. By the early sixteenth century, when the rite was well documented through liturgical books printed in Paris right up to the schism with Rome, the chants were quite florid in character, and virtually every Mass had its proper sequence (these were to be virtually eliminated from the Roman rite during the sixteenth-century reforms of the liturgy, leaving only the most important). Chanting was the foundation stone for every literate musician, so it is good to have it so well represented here. Lionheart's chant shines, with the ensemble singing as one, the phrases beautifully shaped, the tone wonderfully warm.
With the exception of Dunstable's early masterpiece Quam pulcra es, the polyphonic works all date from the years around 1500. Many will be familiar to collectors, but Lionheart does well by these chestnuts, capturing just the right tone for the lewd hunting metaphors of Blow thi horne, hunter. Especially effective is the sonic highlighting of the Latin phrases, which end each line in “Up y arose,“ which tells the sad story of an unwanted pregnancy.
The most extended piece, and most elevated in style, is the six-part O regina mundi clara by John Browne, the most accomplished of the composers represented in the Eton Choirbook, which arguably represents the pinnacle of English polyphony. Lionheart's reading of this demanding music is not entirely satisfying, particularly in the full sections, which never quite take flight. The uppermost parts seem overmatched by the weight of the lower voices.
The texts are given in their original spellings, and the translations, by Richard Porterfield, are admirable, though glosses for less-familiar English words would not have been amiss. Nimbus's recorded sound is flattering. A warm welcome to a fine debut.
-- Tom Moore, Fanfare