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GRAMOPHONE (04/2016)
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Reviewer: David Fallows

In the third and last of their issues of 13th-century conductus arising from an AHRC research project at the University of Southampton, John Potter, Christopher O’Gorman and Rogers Covey-Crump once again endorse their awesome reputation as unchallenged singers of this repertory. And the selection of pieces adds generously to what was already available. As a novelty in this issue, two songs in Provençal are added: they both have the same melody as the lower voice of one of the two-voice conducti on this disc; nobody knows which was composed first but it is quite clear that the results can be bizarrely different.


Now that all three discs are available, though, it becomes easier to see that the set represents two basic views that have their adherents but may lessen the enjoyment to be gained here. First, that music of the 13th century is quite unlike later music in that it doesn’t reflect the content of its texts: thus the song of open seduction in Al entrant del tans salvage sounds not much different from the song of unrequited love (with the same melody), Per dan que d’amor mi veigna, and so on. The second concerns the notation of the melismatic (sine littera) sections and the syllabic ones (cum littera). I need to get technical here, but it seems important so that listeners understand why some of the music is a touch boring. Again and again in the conductus repertory, the sine littera sections are in regular ligatures that are easily read in the ‘rhythmic modes’ described by the theorists; by contrast, the cum littera sections appear in the manuscripts in equal note-values. For years, it was concluded logically enough that the metrical structure established in the sine littera sections should be continued in the cum littera sections. But as of about 30 years ago scholars began to doubt this. So the present set jerks from the lilting rhythms of the sine littera sections to an equisyllabic presentation of the texted sections. To my ear this almost always makes no sense. That is not to say that the entire conductus repertory must be interpreted in the same way. But it is to say that somehow the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.


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