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.

JJP

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


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa