The music of the Medieval and early Renaissance is a startlingly unfamiliar language for modern ears with its strange clashes and cadences. Thanks to the tireless work of scholars, specialist performers and boutique labels, nowadays we can immerse ourselves in order to become sufficiently ‘fluent’, yet one can only wonder at what emotional responses this music must have triggered in the average 14th-century listener.
Next to the big names of the Burgundian School, Arnold and Hugo de Lantins were second league but their works pop up in various codices alongside Dufay and Binchois. Little is known about Arnold but even less about Hugo – we’re not even sure they were brothers – but they were both clerics in the diocese of Liège. The first evidence of their work appeared in Northern Italy. This recital by Le Miroir De Musique, a superb ensemble of four singers and six instrumentalists, offers a lovely programme of secular chansons and rondeaux interspersed with instrumental arrangements.
The vocalists here strike an ideal balance of disciplined purity with an unforced, open vocal delivery. Clara Coutouly is especially enchanting in her solo turns Hélas amour, que ce qu’endure and Puis que je voy, belle, que ne m’aimes; a lovely voice, sensuous yet chaste. The instrumentalists are an accomplished ensemble; the vielles producing a lovely husky sound with more body and less buzz than usual.
The transparent recording (mastered at a very high level so be warned) allows one to hear the subtle details of Marc Lewon’s superb lute playing – he draws a great deal of varied tones and shadings from such a limited palate. Ricercar previously released a lovely disc of Arnold’s Missa Verbum Incarnatum sung by the superb Capilla Flamenca; that and the disc under review are the only albums I know devoted to these composers but they make a welcome supplement to our understanding of a key transitional period and give us a healthy aural cleansing.