An hour of experimental 14th-century music, given in Antwerp by a group of four musicians led by Jill Feldman and Kees Boeke, was for us the high spot of Antwerp's Polifonia Italiana Festival. This CD explores Guillaume de Machaut and his Italian successors in Tuscany, composers of the "Trecento" who wrote complex music in a spirit of avant-garde. Jill Feldman, who with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants in Paris created the title-role of Charpentier's Médée (Harmonia Mundi), sings with exquisite refinement and beauty of tone. It is all text-driven music with fascinating poems, presented in an attractive book format, with full background notes and explanations and all the texts in several languages, old and new.
A whole programme of two part music from this period is unusual on disc, but does not at all prove to be of limited interest or outstay its welcome. Whereas three-part writing became the norm in France, in Italy two part writing retained an important position and is recorded here in its pure form, without any 'fanciful but historically unfounded' completing parts. Recording and presentation standards are impeccable and we have found this a CD which repays being played again and again.
Kees Boeke stresses the importance of thoroughly familiarising themselves with new repertoire in repeated live performances before committing it to disc. Do explore their website, its ingenious address hinting at that, as well as their non-musical activities, which include production of wine and olive oil in Tuscany! Purchase via http://www.o-livemusic.com/.
Copyright © 2004, Peter Grahame Woolf