Like many of England's finest musicians, Andrew Lawrence-King began his career in choir school, serving as head chorister for the Cathedral and Parish Church of St. Peter Port, Guernsey. He took an organ scholarship to Cambridge University, where he read mathematics, but finished his studies in organ and voice at the London Early Music Centre. A party at a harpmaker's house gave the opportunity for Lawrence-King to own his first early harp, modeled after a Medieval Irish instrument.
The Baltimore Consort used to do programs similar to this one, but The Harp Consort takes the production values and vocal artistry to an even higher level. From the opening, a highly rhythmic, sensuously melodic traditional Breton number, you're drawn into a world of earthy, folk-based music that's filled out with the colors of period instruments and brought to life by the expressive voices of singers who allow the flow and pulse of the language to shape phrases and create natural accents and inflection. The result is affecting, engrossing performances that convey what we can only surmise is a reasonably accurate realization of these ancient and justifiably enduring tunes.
Thirteenth-century troubador Gautier de Coincy's blend of mystical religious poetry and the popular tunes to which he set his poems proves irresistible, especially in the Harp Consort's lively renditions. Given the nature of the material, the sheer variety of rhythms, sounds, and colors on this disc is astounding; the vocal soloists are all excellent, the small chorus adept, captivating when it sings in the gutsy peasant style at appropriate moments. Eight purely instrumental numbers are sprinkled throughout the 20 tracks, each a gem, full of colorful effects from the rich-sounding shawm and other period instruments like bagpipe, vielle, and a variety of percussion instruments that thump and shimmer in ways that make you want to dance.
The music of Shakespeare's England - ballad tunes, country dances and elegant consorts - seems at first to be quintessentially English. Yet many of these tunes, as popular dances or in the high-art variations of division music, were inspired by Celtic and Spanish styles. In variations, from 17th-century manuscripts and in improvised divisions, 'gypsy' ballads are metamorphosed into exquisite consort music.
This is an album of songs from Guernsey, an island off Cornwall but much closer to Normandy, and the music is as odd and captivating as the particular brand of French in which it is sung. The music, even to a not-particularly-sophisticated ear, seems a combination of Celtic twang and French charm, with unexpected springs of rhythm amidst melodies that are as graceful as swans.
Other recent King's Singers' recordings on this label have reaffirmed the ensemble's credentials as compelling advocates of contemporary music. Here, only the most hardhearted of early music purists could fail to find the infectious cocktail of popular and religious Spanish music–largely 16th century–going to their heads, even if the King's Singers add the occasional theatrical embellishment. The music (much of it by "Anon") is organized into five categories, among them "fire" and "water" (with the alternative implications of ardor and alcohol).
This venture into Scottish early music is a first for Temple Records - the label known mainly for its emphasis on traditional Scottish music. It is also the recording debut for The Rowallan Consort. Formed in 1994 by Robert Phillips and William Taylor, they uniquely combine the sound of the lute and the wire-strung harp (clarsach) to beautiful effect. With guest singers Mhairi Lawson and Paul Rendall, they have researched and perform songs and music dating from 1400-1700.
Madame d'amours is an enchanting and pleasingly varied collection of pieces performed for flute consort by The Attaignant Consort. The Consort was founded in 1998 by four graduates (from Australia, France, the Netherlands and Italy) of the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague. Having studied historical flute performance practice under Barthold Kuijken and/or Wilbert Hazelzet, these experts (they also work with such renowned groups as Les Musiciens du Louvre, Freiburger Barockorchester and Musica Antiqua Köln – amongst others) also pursue their passion for the sound world of the Renaissance flute in collaboration with Italian flute maker, Giovanni Tardino. The premise of all concerned is that such consort music aspired to a closeness to the patterns and intonations of the human voice. This was (and is, here) achieved by careful attention to instrumental articulation, expressiveness and dynamic shading. The Attaignant Consort likes to play with facsimiles of the original parts in preference to scores; and from memory whenever possible. For this recording the Consort is joined by harpist Marta Graziolino, lutanist Nigel North and flautist Mathieu Langlois.
I believe that this was Andrew Lawrence-King's first recording (1986) – a sterling effort which is ample proof of why he went on to become a well-established figure in his field. He has appeared on numerous recordings, including many with Jordi Savall's Hesperian XX, and is currently the director of the Harp Consort. The program is both musically interesting and eminently listenable; and given Lawrence-King's credentials (he won an Organ Scholarship to Selwyn College, Cambridge and completed his studies at the London Early Music Centre), his understanding of the material is unquestionably comprehensive. His technical execution is equally impressive.
The music of Guillaume Dufay is often said to lie on the boundary between medieval and Renaissance. It is complex in the manner of medieval polyphony, sometimes with multiple texts in different languages, and intricate rhyme schemes. Yet, in its evocative use of vertical sonority and its original texts in the songs, it approaches a manner of text-setting that you can recognize as modern. His chansons are not often recorded, so this release of 18 chansons from the Orlando Consort would be welcome on general principles; it has virtues considerably beyond that. The program, and its gloss in the booklet or online materials, go a long way toward bringing this rather difficult music to life. The Orlando Consort, a quartet of male singers (countertenor, two tenors, and baritone), does well to begin with the so-called Lament for Constantinople, written by Dufay after the fall of the Eastern Empire to the Turks in 1453.