The Lily & the Rose
English visitors to the Musée Cluny in Paris can be surprised to see its massive collection of Nottingham alabaster from the 14th and 15th centuries. Like the English music that was so widely distributed on the continental mainland in the 15th century, it was plainly loved and respected throughout Europe but most traces of it in England were destroyed on the instructions of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Oliver Cromwell. So Andrew Kirkman and Philip Weller obviously had a good idea when they decided to base a CD (and a project) on the similar cases of the two. The accompanying booklet here is generously decorated with beautiful colour plates of English alabaster (though they are so reduced in the printed booklet that you will need to go to the Hyperion website to see them properly and even to decipher the gushing commentaries on the sculptures).
Thankfully, the scholars have more sense than to draw precise parallels between any particular piece of music and a particular sculpture. And don’t be put off by the first page of the notes (almost any paragraph of which could earn a place in ‘Pseuds’ Corner’). The fact of the matter is that the two repertories share almost nothing apart from their similar reception histories. But the six adult male singers of The Binchois Consort under Andrew Kirkman perform on a very high qualitative level indeed.
There are two excellent earlier recordings of Frye’s Mass Flos regalis but The Binchois Consort may well come closer than their predecessors to the true spirit of the work, particularly in terms of personnel and pacing. And if there is occasionally a certain sameness between the tracks, they do jump out at you in a thoroughly spirited performance of John Plummer’s evergreen Anna mater.