I have set my hert so hy (CD review)

Love & Devotion in Medieval England. William Lyons, The Dufay Collective and Voice Trio. Avie Records AV2286.

The album's packaging tells us that "During the 14th and 15th centuries England witnessed an explosion of written poetic output in the vernacular, the lyrics of which were intimately bound to music. Sadly, only a handful of poems have survived 'intact'; in the spirit of reconstruction, The Dufay Collective join forces with Voice to perform extant songs and instrumental adaptations as well as poetry set to adapted/original melodies by director William Lyons, also including a selection of rare surviving instrumental dances."

So, what we have here is a collection of tunes one might have heard in England during the thirteen and fourteen hundreds. However, also be aware that one can misinterpret medieval music if one thinks of it simply as falling into convenient categories like "religious," "courtly," and "folk." Things are not so easy. Conductor William Lyons tells us that while the songs on the album may sound courtly or even folk, it's a kind of pretense, an artificiality imposed on the music by minstrels. Whatever, the songs do represent the diverse musical styles common to the period, and there is no question that in their present arrangements (mostly by Mr. Lyons), they sound authentic.

As for the performers, one could hardly want better. The Dufay Collective, a small English ensemble led by Lyons, formed in 1987 for historical performances. They have produced a dozen or so albums, including a Grammy nominee. The lineup of players for this disc are William Lyons, director, recorder, double pipes, flute, and whistle; Rebecca Austen-Brown, recorder, vielle, rebec, and gittern; Jon Banks, gittern and harp; and Jacob Heringman, lute and gittern. (A gittern, incidentally, is a medieval stringed instrument resembling a guitar.) The Voice Trio consists of Emily Burn, Victoria Couper, and Clemmie Franks, and they complement the Dufay ensemble nicely.

Here's the program:

  1. Blowe, Northerne Wynd (Lyons)
  2. I Have Set My Hert So Hy (Anon.)
  3. Plus pur l'enoyr (Anon.)
  4. Bryd one brere (Anon., arr. Lyons)
  5. Le grant pleyser (Anon.)
  6. Maiden in the Mor lay (Lyons)
  7. Wel wer hym that wyst (Anon.)
  8. Esperance (Anon.)
  9. Adam lay ibowndyn (Lyons)
10. Danger me hath, unskylfuly (Anon.)
11. Alysoun (Lyons)
12. Ye have so longe kepe schepe (Anon.)
13. With ryth al my herte (Anon.)
14. Nowell, owt of youre sleep aryse (Anon.)
15. I rede that thu be joly and glad (Anon.)
16. I syng of a my den (Anon., arr. Lyons)
17. Hayl Mary ful of grace (Anon.)
18. Ave Maria I say (Anon.)
19. Corpus Christi Carol (Lyons)
20. Gresley Dances (Anon., arr. William Lyons)

William Lyons
The agenda mixes vocal numbers--trio ensembles and solos, a cappella and with accompaniment--with purely instrumental ones, making a good variety in the presentation. Everyone concerned plays with vigor, compassion, and enthusiasm, the women's voices particularly welcome for their sweet, melodious tones. The closing instrumental suite, "Gresley Dances," is the longest track on the disc at a little over nine minutes. The rest of the selections last from about two to four minutes apiece.

The period instruments help to make the selections sound historically accurate. How close the music and its style really are to what a person might have heard five hundred and more years ago is anybody's guess. Yet that's just what these historical renditions are: educated guesses. I suspect they're pretty close, and probably a lot better sung and better played than most such music in medieval times.

Producer and balance engineer Adrian Hunter recorded the songs at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Oxford, England in December 2014. The sound appears very well balanced in terms of frequency response and performer placement. There are no frequencies that stand out among the others, especially important in helping the voices sound realistic. The players appear naturally spread out, too, with both breadth and depth to their arrangement. A warm, light ambient bloom encompasses the instruments and voices, making everything seem quite lifelike.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa