Gothic Voices - Echoes of an Old Hall - BBC Music Magazine

This music dates between c1390 and c1420 during the Hundred Years’ War when England occupied parts of France and was in alliance with the Burgundians. Not surprisingly, some of the English composers of that time owned land in France (Dunstaple) and some of the Burgundian composers served English patrons (Binchois). The ‘Old Hall’ of the title refers to the magnificent Old Hall Manuscript now in the British Library, but previously in private hands at Old Hall Green in Hertfordshire.

Among the earlier pieces here is probably Leonel Power’s Gloria, whose acerbic clashes and angular, thrusting lines are fashioned by these singers into a compelling sonic journey. The slightly later English style of sweet concordant harmonies (called by the Burgundians the ‘contenance angloise’) perfectly suits their expertise in close harmony, and their performances of Forest’s ‘Qualis est dilectus’ and Damett’s ‘Beata Dei genetrix’ are entrancing.

When we move to works by continental composers – especially the chansons by Binchois and Haucourt – they seem a little less comfortable, and the same is true of Mayshuet’s motet ‘Arae post libamina’ about the vanities of singers. This and a few other works here were also recorded on the Hilliard Ensemble’s disc The Old Hall Manuscript (EMI 1991/Virgin Veritas, 1997) where they sometimes fared better. The Gothic Voices show their full vigour however in a splendid and surefooted account of Cooke’s Gloria, and the counterpoint intricacies of a six-voice Gloria by Pycard where they are joined by the singers Josh Cooper and Simon Whiteley.

BBC Music Magazine
01 October 2021