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)
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: