Gothic Voices - The Unknown Lover - All Music

Gothic Voices is a durable British ensemble that has performed medieval secular music mostly in vocal a cappella style. You may or may not like that approach, but if you'd like to give it a try, this disc contains repertory in which unaccompanied singing works well. The group sings some of the fixed-form chansons of Machaut -- and not the usual ones -- but then seizes on the inherent complexity of Machaut's music and looks forward in time to one of his successors, the mysterious Solage. Nothing, not even a first name, is known of this composer, but he was active at the end of the fourteenth century, and his music, lumped at the time under the label of ars subtilior or "subtle art,"seems to have been intellectual and at times freakish. Many discs contain one or two of his pieces, but this one offers a more generous sampling of this music. For a taste of what you're getting into, sample his best-known piece, Fumeux fume par fumee (track 6), whose opening lines are here translated as "Out of dreams the dreamer dreams up dreamy speculation." Elsewhere the pieces have been thought to refer to smoke, or perhaps even to drug use -- a logical supposition in view of the thoroughly cosmic text. This was apparently music made for small groups of aficionados, and the rather claustrophobic atmosphere induced by the small groups of voices singing medieval intervals actually helps put across the weirdly arcane mood of Solage's music. Other songs involve acrostics in their texts, comment on political affairs (S'aincy estoit, track 10), or even argue in favor of jackets as opposed to robes or cloaks (Pluseurs gens, track 11). The Gothic Voices achieve variety by assigning pieces to high or low ranges and deploying shifting groups of singers. This album is worth anyone's time for the ride through Solage's music, and it's a must for those already enamored of the Gothic Voices style.

All Music
01 July 2006