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Music for the 100 Years’ War (The Binchois Consort)

Cd/Dvd Reviews - Vocal & Choral

Power, Dunstaple, Alanuss

Sacred music
The Binchois Consort

by Will Yeoman on August 31, 2017 (August 31, 2017) filed under Vocal & Choral | Comment Now
★★★★☆ Music that might have been performed at the famous battle.

As with previous recordings by The Binchois Consort – such as Music for Henry V and the House of LancasterMusic for the 100 Years’ War places a cappella sacred music in its historical context through a judicious mix of scholarship and speculation. The motivation in this case was to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. But as the consort’s director Andrew Kirkman and Philip Weller write in their detailed booklet note, “In doing so [the programme] also casts its net wider, embracing other aspects and events” of the war of which Agincourt “formed but one part – albeit a heroic and iconic part.”

Here, therefore, are carols, motets and sections of masses which might have been performed during Henry V’s campaign by members of “an enormous retinue”, which included a fully functioning liturgical and musical chapel.

Such is the quality of the music and the performances that one can be left in no doubt that the creativity which grew out of the greater culture of the time and nourished it in turn can be equally inspiring today. This is music that sounds as fresh as though it were written just yesterday – but with an element of strangeness born of its great antiquity.

The main part of the programme, which is bookended by two carols of “lively topicality” – Anglia tibi turbidas and the famous Agincourt Carol – is organised into four groups “that illustrate some of the specialised themes and the uses to which such music would have been put – for celebration, invocation and solemnisation.”

Under “Kingship and the rise of nation” we have works such as the enigmatic Forest’s beautiful motet, Ascendit Christus super celos/Alma redemtoris mater. “St Thomas Becket – Protector of England” includes Leonel Power’s Gloria Ad Thome Memoriam.

Gathered under “St Edmund, king and martyr – Protector of England” are three exquisite miniatures including the anonymous Ave miles/Ave rex, patrone/Ave rex gentis Anglorum. Finally, there is “The coronation of Henry VI”, celebrated here by the music of the great John Dunstaple including his Missa Da Gaudiorum Premia.

Despite the three to six male voices sometimes singing entirely different texts simultaneously, in settings that are already rhythmically and polyphonically complex enough, these performances sound smooth, effortless and hauntingly sonorous throughout. As such, they reinforce the connection between this music and the luminous contemporaneous alabasters, photographs of which adorn an accompanying booklet, which is a work of art in itself.