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GRAMOPHONE (08/2020)
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Evidence EVCD069 

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Reviewer: Edward Breen

Claude Le Jeune (1528/30-1600) was one of the more adventurous composers of the late 16th century and part of a movement seeking to restore the effects of ancient music. The collection of 39 works in Le printemps (of which 13 are selected on this disc) represent his work imitating the poetic forms and metres of classical antiquity, a movement encapsulated in verse by Joachin Du Bellay in 1549: ‘Sing to me those odes, yet unknown to the French music, on a lute well tuned to the sound of the Greek and Roman lyre!’ (La défense et illustration de la langue française).

What sounds rather technical is anything but when sculpted by Le Jeune. Take his most famous composition, La bel’ aronde (‘The beautiful swallow’), in which five strophes of four lines are sung by four voices (these are called the chant) and alternate with a recurring refrain (the rechant). Ensemble Gilles Binchois beautifully capture the suppleness of Le Jeune’s setting, clearly mindful of the composer’s own advice that his music should be known ‘as if by heart’. There’s great warmth and care in this performance, both singers and plucked strings finding a brightness and lightness that complement the fluidity of these homophonic textures.

Yet La bel’ aronde is also rather conservative: I prefer the fluid approaches to tempo from Doulce Mémoire (2017) or even the Purcell Consort of Voices (Argo, 7/72 – nla). Similarly, in Brunelette, joliette (‘Pretty little Brunelette’), despite beauty and shapeliness, the Binchois ensemble fail to sparkle compared with the light-footed dance of Doulce Mémoire, who find in the first phrase a breathless momentum that matches the fall of the melody. Yet in La béle gloire (‘To give beauteous glory’), the Binchois ensemble’s a cappella performance is possibly the most exquisite on record, their statuesque textures being unrivalled in more sombre poetry.


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