For information about the scope of this column, consult the headnote in the September 2002 issue (p. 136 of this volume).
Music of the Gothic Era. Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow. Archiv 471 731-2, 2002.
The historical significance of this recording renders it, in some ways, impervious to criticism--love it or hate it, every library needs to own a copy. At the time of its original release in 1976, Music of the Gothic Era was met with both lavish praise and cranky denigration, with some justification on both sides. Yes, the singers were of the highest caliber and their energy and skill combined to create what was probably the single most influential recording of early vocal music up to that point, one which remains a landmark in the history of classical music more than a quarter of a century later. On the other hand, yes, David Munrow's use of instrumental accompaniment was idiosyncratic and at times intrusive. What is inarguable is the freshness and excitement that Munrow brought to what could otherwise have been a heavy-handed recital of what was, at the time, an obscure repertoire. The group's rendition of Perotin's Viderunt omnes, in particular, remains breathtaking, and while one might argue with the incl usion of a frame drum (however quiet and tasteful) in a performance of a fourteenth-century motet or with the inclusion of those annoying bells on Leonin's Gaude Maria, there is simply no denying the impact of the performances overall. Also noteworthy in the case of the present issue is the remarkably fine job done by Archiv's engineers in remastering the original recordings, which hardly sound dated at all. A single-disc extract of the original boxed set was released on compact disc in 1985 (Archiv 415 292-2) and the entire program was then issued on compact disc in 1997 (Archiv 453 185-2). This new issue comes as part of Archiv's very welcome budget-line Archiv Blue reissue series, which also includes long-deleted releases by such eminent performers and ensembles as Musica Antiqua Koln, the English Concert, and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. Any library that has yet to replace its vinyl version of Music of the Gothic Era or that has made do until now with the one-disc extract should immediately upgrade t o this new version, though those that own the previous complete compact disc reissue will have no particular reason to replace it with this one.
Galante Kurzweyl: Hofische Tanze aus Renaissance, Barock, und Rokoko. Ensemble Buon Tempo. Hanssler Classic CD 98.411, 2001.
On its second recording, this versatile ensemble explores much of the same terrain as it did on its first (Hofische Lustbarkeiten: Gesellschaftstanze aus Renaissance, Barock, Rokoko & Biedermeier [Verlag der Spielleute 9803, 1998]): an impressively broad variety of courtly dance tunes spanning a period of nearly three hundred years. As it did on the first album, the Ensemble Buon Tempo presents its program in roughly chronological order, moving from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century compositions of John Playford, Pierre Attaingnant, and Jean d'Estree through the eighteenth century with pieces by Raoul-Auger Feuillet, Louis Pecour, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Giovanni Battista Bononcini, D'Aubat St. Flour, and a certain M. Groscort, as well as extracts from larger works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As with the ensemble's previous release, the purpose of this disc is as much to support dance research and practice as it is to illuminate the musical history of the period, and to that end the li ner notes include choreographical explanations as well as historical notes for each piece. The playing simply could not be lovelier; the Ensemble Buon Tempo's intonation is flawless and its rhythmic energy delightful. Particular praise is due to Sylvia Rosin and Irmhild Beutler, whose twin recorders intertwine with effortless grace and without the slightest lapse in intonation, and to chitarronist and guitarist Thomas Schulz, whose ensemble arrangements of these monophonic tunes are both idiomatically appropriate and sensuously lovely. …