The Hilliard Ensemble: Dunstable - Motets (APE)
The Hilliard Ensemble: Dunstable - Motets (APE)

Composer: John Dunstable
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Virgin
Size: 216 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. Veni Sancte Spiritus – Veni Creator
02. Alma Redemptoris Mater
03. Credo Super ‘Da Gaudiorum Premia’
04. Agnus Dei
05. Salve Scema Sanctitatis
06. Gaude Virgo Salutata
07. Quam Pulchra Es
08. Salve Regina Misericordiae
09. Preco Preheminenciae

A capella mystical motets

The anonymous author of the liner notes emphasizes quite rightly the ‘otherness’ of this music, which he sees as more nearly related to non-Western and minimalistic music than to the music of the Renaissance or the Baroque. These isorhythmic motets by the English composer John Dunstable, who lived from approx. 1390 to 1453 and about whose biography very little is known, very definitely have their roots in the mediaeval period, despite certain developments towards modernity which made this composer famous throughout Europe (he is generally cited as having inspired Dufay). In most cases the individual voices sing not only differing melodies but also differing sacred lyrics, the melodies in no way reflecting the meaning of the sung text. This, obviously, makes listening, even when using the texts printed in the accompanying booklet, quite a difficult procedure. Most hearers will, for that reason, probably be satisfied with just listening to the beautifully intermingling male voices, dominated as usual with the Hilliards by the two countertenors, David James and Ashley Stafford, without trying to attend to the lyrics or even to the mysterious mathematical symbolism for which Dunstable is famous.

The engineering of the disc tends to promote this. The analogue recording was made at England’s Boxgrove Abbey in 1982 and suffers somewhat from a certain amount of noise from the tapes as well as under the (presumably deliberately chosen) echoing church acoustics, which make exact listening even more difficult than it would have been anyway. But perhaps this is just what was intended: even in those days, the Hilliards had a tendency to ‘mysticize’, an aspect of their art which has, of course, grown with the years. Personally, I would have welcomed a recording of the clarity and quality of their Machault mass for Hyperion.

The fact that the Hilliards do without any instrumental accompaniment and sing a capella from start to finish is probably historically accurate and for my mind a big advantage, especially as I must emphasize that each individual singer here has perfect intonation and fits in to the whole beautifully. The repertoire value of the disc is absolutely unquestionable.

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