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GRAMOPHONE (03/2017)
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Reviewer: Edward Breen

Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (1392‑c1480) first came to light in the 1970s, when his name was discovered by the Czech musicologist Jaromír Černy in the text of the motet Pneuma/Veni/ Paraclito/Dator. Like his contemporary Dufay, Petrus Wilhelmi sits on the cusp of the Renaissance but, working chiefly in Central Europe, we often find him blending older Ars Nova ideas with his local musical traditions. A selection of his works is presented here alongside pieces from other Central European composers both named and unnamed. In particular, this programme is framed by two anonymous canons, the opening Domine ad adiuvandum and the closing Ex trinitatis culmine, which the group describe as ‘musical gems dug out from two neglected manuscript fragmentars of (possibly) Prussian and Hungarian origin’. They are fine pieces and well worth listening out for.

There are, however, two things I find slightly dissatisfying with these performances. The first is demonstrated most obviously in Domine ad adiuvandum me festina. The snappy rhythmic character of the work is neither introduced nor supported by the instrumentalists, who play both first and throughout. The singers use clear, straightforward phrasing and unwavering intonation, which highlights the flaccid instrumental phrasing and air of indecisiveness that surrounds them. There are several examples of such disconnect between vocal and instrumental approaches on this disc and it strikes me as a central requirement of polyphonic textures that a unified approach is established from the outset. In Domine ad adiuvandum me festina the recorder’s ‘expressive’ intonation feels at odds with the clarity and rhythmic definition of the singers, and the result is a vaguely unsettling mismatch. My second, more subjective criticism is that I find the plucked string sounds – although initially attractive, particularly in Nicolaus de Radom’s Ballade and Johannes Holandrinus’s Virelai – lose charm and bristle with fidgety energy when used repeatedly.

Fittingly, one of the finest performances on this disc is of the motet that first yielded Petrus Wilhelmi’s name. In an all-vocal performance, Petrus’s textures are rich, sonorous and rather old-fashioned for their time. Kyrie: Fons bonitatis shows Petrus in a more ‘modern’ guise and the singers at their most sumptuous.

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