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GRAMOPHONE (01/2021)
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Reviewer: David Fallows

This is a super gift for somebody who loves – or is even curious about – the European Middle Ages. It is also an issue that has been waiting to happen but somehow didn’t happen until now. Ensemble Dragma noticed how many medieval songs mention beasts, both real and fictional. So they assembled a collection of such pieces in French and Italian from the late 14th century. That half of them are performed instrumentally, without text, slightly muffles the point; but for that you get an absolutely delicious performance of ‘Or sus vous dormés trop’ from Marc Lewon and Agnieszka Budzin´ska-Bennett in the Faenza Codex version

Budzin´ska-Bennett does most of the singing, making the very best of her creamy tone and pinpoint precision, especially in the wickedly florid music of the Italian Trecento. She also has a marvellously wide range of expression, from the anguish of Machaut’s anguished ‘Une vipere’ to the dotty silliness of the anonymous ‘Deh tristo mi topinello’.

But the cherry on the icing lies in the accompanying film – rather longer than the CD because it also includes readings from selected absurd comments about the animals from (mostly) medieval literature. This not only has English subtitles for everything but has a dellicious range of pictures from medieval bestiaries, some of the animals animated so they move their arms. The main impression here is that these three wonderful musicians and their colleagues had terrific fun assembling this; and they communicate that fun faultlessly. Enjoy.

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