Three More Medieval Discs

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Program: #20-07   Air Date: Feb 03, 2020

A compilation from the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, chant from the time of Bernard of Clairvaux, and music from medieval Finland and Sweden.

I. Bernard de Clairvaux—Chants of the Cistercians (Ensemble Officium/Wilfried Rombach). Christophorus CD CHE 0217-2.

Bernard de Clairvaux: Chants Of The Cistercians Product Image
Bernard of Clairvaux, saint, ascetic, founder of numerous abbeys and crusade preacher, was a powerful man of the Church and a 12th Century trailblazer.

Ensemble officium presents a programme of Gregorian chant and early polyphony in celebration of this controversial saint.

Included are songs by and about Bernard of Clairvaux and Gregorian chorales on the texts of the Song of Songs, which are closely linked with his theology.

Bernard of Clairvaux was the founder of the Cistercian order which developed a musical tradition of its own. This reflects the Christ mysticism which is characteristic of Bernard. The ensemble officium has recorded music from the Cistercian tradition which are all anonymous. Bernard of Clairvaux is the author of several texts, but not the composer as the disc's title could suggest. Bernard was an opponent of polyphony, and therefore most chants are monophonic. But several polyphonic pieces are known from the Cistercian monastery of Las Huelgas, and two of them are included in the programme. For the ensemble this was the reason to perform some monophonic chants polyphonically. One example is Jesu dulcis memoria - probably written by someone else - which is the thread of this disc. The stanzas of this poem are alternated by responsories and motets. This has resulted in an interesting production which provides a nice picture of the musical practice in Cistercian monasteries. The performances are technically impeccable and musically captivating.

[Invitatorium] Domine, labia mea aperies

[Hymnus in festo S. Bernhardis] Bernardus inclytis

[Jubilus rhythmicus de nomini Jesu] Jesu dulcis memoria

[Responsorium] Filiae Jerusalem

[Responsorium] Quam pulchra es

[Responsorium] Electa mea

[Responsorium] Et dilectus meus

[Responsorium in Nativitate] Verbum caro factum est

[Motet] Salve virgo nobilis/Verbum caro/Et veritate

[Responsorium] Ecce iste venit; [Responsorium] Quae est ista

[Responsorium] Surge, propera

[Motet] Anima mea/Descendi in hortum/Alma redemptoris mater

[Responsorium] Vox turturis; [Organum] Sancte Bernarde

[Hymnus in festo S. Bernhardis] Bernardus, doctor inclytus 


II. Voix du Ciel (Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard). Evidence CD EVCD065.

Voix du Ciel

Declaring their love to the most beautiful sacred songs of History and weaving the bond between past and present: this is the purpose of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois in this compilation that reflects the past forty years spent in recordings and musical researches, that all met success.

True forerunners, tireless pioneers, the Ensemble offers here a musical overview of the richness of a wide repertoire that extends to almost 8 centuries of music, up to the Mediterranean and the Flanders, and even India and Iran.

Conducted by Dominique Vellard, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, celebrating its 40th birthday in 2019, established as a true reference in the sacred repertoire.

With this double disc, it sets up a discographic pantheon of the musics that forged our history.

From Music Web InternationalAmazingly, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois is 40 years old, and has about 60 CDs to its credit. All along, Dominique Vellard has orchestrated their incredibly varied repertoire, and engineered their development and concert programming. This double album assembled from several reasonably recent CDs takes us from the 12th century in Spain and the Notre-Dame School through to Ockeghem and Heinrich Isaac via excerpts from a recent disc of the Barcelona and so-called Apt Masses. The performances are consistent, and instruments are used as the musicians feel appropriate in both sacred and secular repertoire.

It has been a contentious issue how instruments may have played a part in early medieval music. On the whole, English groups – the Binchois Consort, Gothic Voices and the Orlando Consort, to name but three – have preferred the a capella approach. Continental groups have favoured instrumental participation. They based their thinking on the fact that sections of songs from the 14th and 15th centuries, for example, often involved long, untexted melismas – they play those instrumentally. Using instruments in the Spanish music of Alfonso el Sabio seems to make sense, and manuscript illustrations seem to suggest the case. The bonus for us listeners is an added interest and added colour. But what about sacred music, and what do you think about purely instrumental motets?

The Notre Dame school pieces and the extract from Isaac’s Mass and Ockeghem’s Requiem are sung a capella but the Mass movements from the Barcelona and Apt manuscript pieces (they date from the time of the papal schism) liberally use string instruments: sometimes behind a solo voice sometimes behind a vocal ensemble. The pacing of the performances is considered, even leisurely. I often like that approach. If one knows the recording of the Barcelona Mass by the group Obsidenne on Opus 111 (OPS 30-130), one will hear in contrast a strongly paced and firmly directed rendition. Sometimes, however, as in the troped Agnus from the Barcelona Mass, Vellard’s reading seems to amble along without much sense of propulsion, and loses interest.

Not all of the music is old. The three pieces from the disc Cantica Sacra are by Dominic Vellard himself: Beatitudes for two female voices and two Requiem movements, one for men and one for women. The harmony is austere, close and often dissonant, but clearly there is an influence of the very earliest polyphony, say from the Notre Dame School with the slow harmonic motion but with ornamented top lines.

This double album offers a good opportunity to discover the best of this outstanding ensemble. The booklet comes with full texts in the original French and English. (The translations are fine, except that I do not care for ‘Tu nobis dona expectata bona’ as ‘give us the goods we are expecting’!) There is a general essay by Vellard about the ensemble and some of the music. Photographs in black and white and in colour show the group then and now. There is also a list of all of the performers involved in each of the featured discs.

Gary Higginson

CANTIGAS DE SANTA MARIA – Alfonso el Sabio (1221-1284)
1.Maravillosos [5.49]
2. Nas mentes [1.52]
3. Eno nome de Maria ]5.12]
4. Sola fusti [2.21]
5. Salvatoris hodie [12.51]
6. Repons: et valde [7.39]
7. Mater regis angelorum [5.19]
8. Ut queant laxis [3.49]
9. Adoremus in aeternam [6.01]
CANTICA SACRA – settings by Dominic Vellard
10. Les Beatitudes [9.54]

CD 2

1.Requiem: Introit [5.58]
2. Requiem: Graduel [3.56]
MISSA VIRGO PRUDENTISSIMA – Heinrich Isaac (C.1450-1511)
3. Gloria [6.20]
4. Alleluia (plainchant) [1.42]
5. Beata Viscera [6.52]
FONS LUMINIS (Codex from the ‘Las Huelgas’ monastery-Burgos c.1300
6. Agnus Dei [3.29]
7. Jocundare plebs fidelis [4.35]
8. O Maria maris stella/ O Maria des cella/Veritatem [1.28]
9. O Maris Virgo davitica /O Maria dei cella/ Veritatem [1.36]
10. Benedicaus Domino [4.56]
11, Kyrie avec trope “Humano generi” [7.07]
12. Colla jugo/Bona condit [2.39]
13. Agnus dei (Barcelona) [3.25]
14. “Imperatrix/O Maria [2.11]
15. Ave Maris Stella [2.37]
16. Johannes OCKEGHEM (d.1497) Offertoire; Requiem [9.08]

III. Mare Balticum Vol. 2—Medieval Finland and Sweden (Ensemble Peregrina/Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett). Tacet CD S 248.

Mare Balticum Vol. 2. Medieval Finland and Sweden. 14th-16th Product Image
The first recording in the 4-part series “Mare Balticum”, medieval music from Denmark, received the ICMA (International Classical Music Award). Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett and Ensemble Peregrina have created a series incapsulating astonishing and persuasive ideas. Budzinska-Bennett digs out works where others do not even know what to dig for and makes them playable. The works on this album are a feast for the ears.

The series provides an insight into the local literature and musical repertories of medieval Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Poland; both Latin and the vernacular are represented, as well as the diversity of historical musical instruments used in those regions at the time.

The project aims to show something of the strong political and cultural connections between these medieval countries, their development over time, and the similarities between them, all of which are essential to our understanding of the common identity and history of Balticum, as is reflected to us through its centuries of music.

Ensemble Peregrina is one of the leading ensembles dedicated to the performance of early medieval vocal music. The core of the ensemble comprises Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett, Kelly Landerkin, Lorenza Donadini, Hanna Jarvelainen and Baptiste Romain, often joined by other excellent musicians such as Benjamin Bagby.

Finland (Åbo Gradual, 14th-15th Cen. & Piae Cantiones).
1 Jesus Christus Lunastajam’   anonymus 2:46
2 Ieremie prophetie   anonymus  
3 Ave maris stella   anonymus 2:29
4 Herra armahda   anonymus 2:52
5 Iesus Christus nostra salus   anonymus



Birgitta of Sweden(c.1303-1372)—Cantus soriorun

6 Summe Trinitati V. Prestet nobis gratiam   anonymus 2:37
7 Sicut spinarum V. Assiste spes nostra   anonymus 2:49
8 Perenniter V. Overe dilectionis   anonymus 2:58
9 Palluerunt V. O immensam charitatem   anonymus 4:25
10 Maria Maria tocius   anonymus 1:24
11 Benedicamus Domino suam matrem   anonymus 1:16


Henry of Finland (Åbo Gradual, 14th-15th Cen. & Piae Cantiones).


Cetus noster letus esto   anonymus 3:23
13 All. Pie presul   anonymus   1:54
14 Ramus virens olivarum   anonymus 6:43


Swedish Saints—Birgitta, Elin, Eskil (14th - 15th cen.).

15 All. O sponsa Cristi   anonymus 2:08
16 Olim spinas V. Dum luxit Suecie   anonymus 1:52
17 Gaude Birgitta canticum   anonymus 1:02
18 All. O doctrix ewangelica   anonymus 2:14
19 Felix parens Vesgocia   anonymus 2:26
20 All. Helene Vesgocie   anonymus 1:27
21 Rosa rorans bonitatem   anonymus 1:26
22 Olla mortis patescit   anonymus 4:17
23 O Jumalan caritza   anonymus   1:23
24 Iucundare iugiter   anonymus 1:47

Composer Info

Bernard of Clairvaux, Alfonso el Sabio (1221-1284), Heinrich Isaac (C.1450-1511), Johannes OCKEGHEM (d.1497) ,

CD Info

Christophorus CD CHE 0217-2, Evidence CD EVCD065, Tacet CD S 248,