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Fanfare Magazine: 38:1 (09-10/2014) 
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 0093046752460 (ID407)

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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal

This release is a follow-up to the Anonymous 4’s 1994 Love’s Illusion (Harmonia Mundi 907109). That disc drew from the Montpellier Codex, focusing entirely on motets devoted to fin amours, Courtly Love. This album returns to the Codex but splits its efforts among three topical categories, the courtly, the pastoral (Robin and Marion), and the sacred (La vierge Marie). Of the 24 selections, 20 are motets, three are chansons, and one is a reverdie: a ballad whose subject is the advent of Spring, often taking the form of a beautiful woman.

Only three are single motets—that’s to say, a motetus above a tenor. Of the other motets, all are polytextural; 15 are double motets (triplum, motetus, tenor), and two are triple motets (quadruplum, triplum, motetus, tenor). One of the latter, Trois serors, cleverly combines three texts that begin the same way, noting that three sisters are singing brightly, though each sister then diverges into a separate activity on the subject of love: one muses to herself, the second asks her lover to take her back to the verdant woods, and the third comments didactically to that lover. Most of the motets are in either French or Latin, but a couple include texts from both languages. The Anonymous 4 chose these no doubt in part for their culture shock value. Though attractive as music, their simultaneous praise of sacred love in Latin and secular love in French (frank and earthy in Par une matinee) is hardly common in later Western sacred music, settings from the Song of Solomon notwithstanding.

Since the Codex refers to the tenor in these motets by only the first word of an existing sacred or secular melody, some musicologists, such as Richard Hoppin, suggest it was meant to be performed on an accompanying instrument. There’s no certainty of that, however, and the Anonymous 4 here, as in Love’s Illusion, prefer a melismatic vocal treatment. Occasionally, as in A la charte qui tout (Mo 189), they improvise a second melismatic tenor, usually but not entirely on the tonic and octave. They are invariably discreet in such changes.

Each performer has a solo, in the reverdie or one of the chansons. All enunciate clearly, and pronounce most final consonants according to the more phonetic orthography of Early French. What’s perhaps most noticeable is the distinct color of each voice, though Susan Hellauer and Marsh Genensky are closer than the rest. It makes all the more striking the blend and superb balance they achieve in the more complex motets.

In only one respect is this release inferior to Love’s Illusion: That clocked in at over 64 minutes, while this is a somewhat meager 56. Performances and music such as these should be taken into consideration, though, and Marie et Marion earns a solid recommendation.

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