I know that musicians must do everything they can to glorify their careers, but there is something refreshing about the lack of information on the debut CD of Fortuna – a group founded 10 years ago by Dutch recorder player Jacqueline Dubach and fairly active on the festival scene since then. The notes give just the names, a photograph of the five musicians, and that is it. Equally refreshing is the presentation of the song texts: no attempts to translate every word, just enough to give the gist for those who cannot read the original languages. And their musicianship is also refreshing in that it absolutely serves the music: no intrusive personalities getting between the music and the listener.
Much is helped by the flexible and expressive singing of Belgian soprano Hilde van Ruymbeke, who seems always fully on top of the music and is beautifully partnered by the high tenor of Christopher Kale. The group is completed by a lute and a vielle – both players of verve and precision. And here too there is something refreshing about the relative stability of the ensemble: most people perform in most of the pieces. That lack of fuss helps the music to come through.
Not that the pleasure was entirely unalloyed. Many of the speeds are too breathless for my taste, though it is true that this makes it easier for the musicians to create coherent musical designs out of the difficult medieval fixed-form songs (in which they take no shortcuts). And I still find it hard to hear a recorder as playing polyphony in the same range as the vielle and the lute when it is actually sounding an octave higher. Still: it’s a recording that holds the ear and does real service to the music.