A Song for Francesca

Author: 
David Fallows
A Song for Francesca

A Song for Francesca

  • Astio non morì mai
  • Per la ver'onestà
  • Quando la stella
  • Ochi dolenti mie
  • Per seguir la speranca
  • Quando i oselli canta
  • Constantia
  • Amor mi fa cantar a la Francesca
  • Non na el so amante
  • Quel fronte signorille
  • Puisque je suy amoureux
  • Pour mesdians
  • Qui ne veroit que vos deulx yeux
  • Plaindre m'estuet de ma damme joly
  • Je demande ma bienvenue
  • Va t'ent souspier
  • O regina seculi/Reparatrix Maria
  • Confort d'amours

The annual arrival of a new record from Gothic Voices now begins to become something of a major feast on the cultural calendar of those who enjoy medieval music. Externally the pattern may seem similar: an assorted group of pieces loosely hung to an evocative title, immaculate singing, presentation with imaginatively chosen pictures and an elegantly persuasive description in which Christopher Page dispenses extraordinary erudition with an enviable lightness of touch. Internally, though, each record opens new doors.
Nearly everything here, for example, seems to be recorded for the first time. Only Quel fronte signorille and Je demande ma bienvenue are already well known. But there are several works that this recording will now make unforgettable and famous: Andreas de Florentia's Astio non mori mai with its oppressively repetitive chord sequence; the two gooey-textured and irresistible anonymous works from the Canonici manuscript; two colourful ballate of Landini; Grossin's perplexing Va t'ent souspir for which Gothic Voices offer an up-tempo solution; and that richly conceived song of Hugo de Lantins in which the text shows only a subdued anger at the lady's desertion but the poet shows his true feelings in an acrostic (first noticed, I think, by Denis Stevens) ''Putain de merde''. Moreover, we also have three works by that shadowy but perhaps extremely important figure Richard de Loqueville, who may well have been Dufay's first composition teacher.
There are other novelties too. Gothic Voices offer a wider and more controlled range of colours than before, with some refreshingly hard-edged singing. They also perform the delicious Confort d'amours with the lower voices vocalized—which seems to me an eminently sensible approach. And they now fully confront the Italian trecento repertory for the first time. For my preferences, they are still perhaps a little staid in their interpretations of a repertory that seems so often to revel in excess. But there is at the same time some wonderful singing that shows the music in a new light. Just sample John Mark Ainsley and Leigh Nixon singing the early madrigal Quando i oselli canta.
As for the 'theme' of the record, that the Italians in the fourteenth century increasingly sang in the French style (as perhaps punningly mentioned in the monophonic ballata Amor mi fa can tar a la Francesca which Rogers Covey-Crump sings so beautifully), it may be worth noting that the selection of Italian songs actually appears to avoid those that we think of as showing the French style. But then, this is presumably yet another little conceit characteristic both of medieval writing and of Christopher Page. The manager of Gothic Voices is Francesca McManus who has managed and otherwise helped innumerable musicians in London's early-music world for many years. She has richly deserved this dedication.'

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