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GRAMOPHONE ( 09/ 2019)
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Evidence Classics

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Reviewer: Edward Breen

This programme is built around two Mass settings and two manuscripts thought to preserve polyphonic music from the Papal liturgy at Avignon around 1400. The first Mass is the Messe de Barcelone: while not a cyclic Mass, it contains two troped movements, Gloria and Sanctus, which create a pleasing symmetry around a substantial Credo (tantalisingly labelled as by ‘Sortes’). Performing in a combination of voices, vielles and gittern, Ensemble Gilles Binchois cultivate an attractively unhurried, brooding quality; particularly in the hymnlike Kyrie, which showcases the rich vocal quality of the singers.

Compared with a relatively recent performance by Capella de Ministrers under Carles Magraner (CdM, 8/15), this is a conservative but sensitive offering. The Gloria has a nicely varied texture with surprisingly mellifluous tropes given over to countertenor and vielles. The Credo is performed with alternating groups of lower voices, emphasising the gravitas of this large central movement. Characterised by gentle, reedy countertenors and bright, light tenors, this ensemble have lots of vocal personality; they keep phrases buoyant while generally avoiding an acceleration towards those delightfully angular Ars Nova cadences.

The second Mass is a modern assemblage from the Apt manuscript, an idea borrowed from old scribal practices. Here there is a troped Kyrie with fabulous flowing phrases taken by countertenor, after which are two named movements by Depansis (Gloria) and Tapissier (Sanctus), composers about whom we know frustratingly little.

Finally, turning to the motets, de Vitry’s Colla jugo/Bona condit stands out for Dominique Vellard’s gently paced instrumental performance. Remembering the sprightly, chattering (vocal) recording by Sequentia (DHM, 1/92), with its top voice bubbling over with a fast-moving text, these performances by Ensemble Gilles Binchois are determinedly unfussy compared to the exciting, frenetic style often associated with de Vitry.

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