Review from Home Theater and Hi Fi, June 2003:
Recorded with natural resonance at a favored recording venue for early music groups, Mt. Holyoke College’s Abbey Chapel, Pastourelle offers a sampling of gifts from France’s greatest medieval composers and lyricists. If there is a theme for this disc, it derives from the words of the man Fortune’s Wheel’s members consider the greatest medieval French composer, Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377), who wrote, “Music is that science which makes us laugh, and dance, and sing.’
Of the disc’s 20 tracks, eight are by Machaut, three by Adam de la Halle (c. 1245c.1288), and one (“Chanson legière”) by Conon de Bethune (c.11601219). As is often the case with early music, the rest are by the ubiquitous Anon.
Some of these works are written in dance forms such as the caroles, with texts that evoke the joys of dancing outdoors. Others are pastourelles, which tell the tales of courtship and courtly love between maid and knight. Poetry and lyrics, which often speak of suffering and unrequited love, are quite refined. The music has the customary hollow sound that we often associate with medieval writingthink of the harmonies of Gregorian chant transposed to a secular context, with lighter textures and love of flesh replacing love of Godwith melodies both sophisticated and varied.
Because Machaut composed monophonic melodies at a time when polyphony (writing for multiple voices singing different melodic lines simultaneously) was becoming the order of the day, he has been called “the last of the trouvères.” The master wrote in the three great formes fixes of trouvère rhyme-schemes: the ballade, the rondeau, and the virelai. The disc contains examples of each; a special standout is De Fortune, a ballade which invokes the goddess Fortune.
Since so much of the instrumental repertoire from this period was passed down by oral tradition, and thus constantly subject to improvisation, the particular sensibilities of Fortune’s Wheel’s musicians are crucial to the success of the performances. Happily, both musicians and the recording itself shine. There is an elegance and tastefulness to the playing that does full justice to the subject matter. Enjoyment is enhanced by the clarity and sense of space that surround voice and instruments. Whether this disc is played in the background or appreciated in a state of deep contemplation, it provides almost 70 minutes of unalloyed pleasure.
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