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GRAMOPHONE ( 07/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

One of the outstanding composers of the mid-15th century, Walter Frye holds a special place in The Binchois Consort’s repertory. Here they complete a longstanding project to commit all his extant Masses to disc (including an anonymous work convincingly attributed to him). This time it’s the three-voice Nobilis et pulchra, a work whose individuality takes longer to disclose itself, perhaps, than the four-voice cycle Flos regalis, issued last year (9/18). On the other hand I was struck by how songlike the upper voice is (especially in the full texture) and how often it calls to mind the songs of Frye in particular. That such a specific insight is possible bespeaks the security and stylistic acumen that the Binchois bring to this repertory, their near-exclusive focus in the last few years, which has never been better served.

The remaining music is slightly earlier. The pair of Mass movements by Driffelde demonstrate how fine so much of the music by lesser-known figures can be. The lovely En Katerine solennia is taken at a faster pace than seems necessary to me, but Dunstable’s Salve scema sanctitatis closes the disc in show-stopping style, less contemplative than The Hilliard Ensemble’s reading but scarcely less detailed. (It made me wish that there had been just a bit more four-voice music, in fact.) A welcome feature is the couple of tracks illustrating faburden, a technique for improvising polyphony that was extremely common (I hope that they will do more of this and become freer in doing so); another is the originality of the cover art. There might be more to say about this, yet I must here join the ensemble in saluting the memory of their regular collaborator Philip Weller, whose death late last year leaves his many friends bereft and music deprived of a gifted and faithful servant.

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