David Munrow Edition - (The) Art of the Netherlands
Last year saw the launch of the David Munrow Edition on Virgin Veritas (9/96). The series continues with this, arguably Munrow’s most consistent and most polished collection, devoted to the sacred and secular polyphony of the mid-to-late fifteenth century. These recordings remain marvellously fresh and vital – even in the case of pieces that have since had more polished or more clearly recorded interpretations. That is especially true of the sacred music, recorded entirely vocally and (in most cases) one to a part. I challenge anyone to name a more tempestuous reading of Brumel’s “Earthquake Mass”, a more sombre, self-absorbed Intemerata Dei mater (this is still the only recording at super-low pitch), or more luminously clear canons (in Ave sanctissima Maria and Nesciens mater). In the recordings of secular music, the passage of time is rather more obvious. But idiosyncratic though it may now appear, the choice of instruments always combines flair and verve (the four settings of De tous biens plaine are a fine example). In the songs, tempos are rather more languorous than one is now used to, but Munrow’s finest inspirations still strike very deep (the Clerks’ Group’s recent, superlative recording of Du tout plongiet owes much to his). Though one is inevitably filled with a sense of loss at the thought of how much more Munrow might have achieved, one likes to think that if he were alive today, he would be as youthful as his recordings have remained. The phrase “essential listening” is often used (perhaps too often), but it surely applies to “The Art of the Netherlands”.
A word of warning, however: the collection has already been made available on EMI Reflexe (also as a two-disc box – nla), but neither set exactly reproduces the contents of the three original LPs. The EMI set omits selections from all four of the original sections (secular, instrumental, Mass movements and motets); this one cuts out the entire instrumental portion, some 20 minutes of music. EMI’s selection has the more broadly based representation, and a fine introductory sleeve-note by John Milsom (the attributions of individual pieces have since been revised, a fact which is reflected in both packages); on the other hand, the Virgin box includes a handful of motets and songs that are missing on EMI, and which I would be sorry to be without. In short, die-hard Munrow fans intent on every note will either have to purchase both, or else nose out the EMI Japan transfers of the original LPs released separately (on three discs) some years ago. Let me reiterate, however, that we are dealing here with one of the most influential recordings of early music ever made.'