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Hyperion Records

CDA67549 - Delectatio angeli
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederick William Burton (1816-1900)
The National Gallery of Ireland
CDA67549

Recording details: April 2001
Angel Studios, Islington, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Catherine Bott & Stephen Henderson
Engineered by Steve Price & Mat Bartram
Release date: January 2006
Total duration: 61 minutes 48 seconds

'The vivid ambience of the recordings, the quality of the chosen compositions, the incisive, animated, full-toned precision of the fiddle playing and performances by Bott make for 62 minutes of pure pleasure … these performances must rank amongst Bott's best (and that's saying something)' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Delectable is just about the right word for this sequence of pieces sung by Catherine Bott, with and without the fiddles of Pavlo Beznosiuk and Mark Levy. … the simplicity and spontaneity of the pared-down and often improvisatory approach enormously enhances the emotional impact of the music, and brings the listener extraordinarily close to the characters whose deepest feelings are being voiced' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The outstanding CD of the month' (Early Music Review)

'This is some of the most elegant singing I have heard and certainly some of the best fiddle playing now available … it is an excellent single-disc anthology of medieval song' (American Record Guide)

'In every respect this CD is an utter delight. The music is charming, the performances infectious, the recording is simply outstanding and the booklet complete with full texts and translations into modern English, is a real pleasure to read … this disc is a source of unreserved pleasure' (International Record Review)

'A sublime survey of music and textual conceits from a remote yet immediately communicative past … soprano and string players wear their classical training lightly, catching the folk flavour of this beguiling repertoire' (Classic FM Magazine)

'We had to wait five years for its release. Believe me, it was worth the wait. Hear this haunting music' (Fanfare, USA)

'Charmingly and effectively done, it is well worth hearing' (Scotland on Sunday)

Delectatio angeli
Music of love, longing & lament

An extract from Kate Bott’s introduction to this recording:

“This project began over lunch at Pavlo Beznosiuk’s house, when he, Mark Levy and I were spending a day playing through our favourite repertoire, with a view to making a CD celebrating the compelling sound of one voice and two fiddles. The fiddle was a five-stringed bowed instrument which was the most important musical instrument in the middle ages, because in the hands of a master fiddler it could so closely follow and imitate the human voice. We’d begun exploring this combination of gut strings (theirs and mine) almost by chance a few years ago—and the experience proved so liberating that we kept going.

“There are various ways of creating a programme for a recording. You can record someone’s complete output within a genre—but no one wrote their songs and dances exclusively for soprano and fiddles. You can devise a programme around a theme—well, the overwhelming topic for solo songs is, of course, unrequited love, but that would mean leaving out so many interesting lyrics. Or you can just make a delicious and varied selection of great music from among your own personal favourites and go into a recording studio.

“A studio? When it is a truth universally acknowledged that early music is always recorded in a lovely country church? How could we deprive ourselves of all those stirring times when your best performance ever fades into a Gothic silence accompanied only by the distant roar of a ride-on lawnmower, or a reassuring helicopter accompanying the passage of Someone Very Important to the nearest country house hotel? Without a backward glance, as it turned out.

“Mark and Pavlo are players of international standing on the Baroque viol and violin—I never fail to be moved by the passion and spontaneity of their performances on medieval fiddles, and I’m bowled over by their commitment to getting the most out of these more primitive instruments. It was one of those magical recordings that was a delight to make from start to finish.

“Whether you’re discovering this wondrous music for the first time or are revisiting much-loved repertoire, I hope you enjoy these pieces as much as we do.”


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‘In the meane time felowes, pype upp your fiddles, I saie take them
And let your freyndes here such mirth as ye can make them.’
From Gammer Gurton’s Needle, an English comedy from the time of Edward VI.

That quote sums up the spirit of this CD. The project began over lunch at Pavlo Beznosiuk’s house, when he, Mark Levy and I were spending a day playing through our favourite repertoire, with a view to making a CD celebrating the compelling sound of one voice and two fiddles. The fiddle has five strings and was the most important musical instrument in the Middle Ages, because in the hands of a master fiddler it could so closely follow and imitate the human voice.

We’d begun exploring this combination of gut strings (theirs and mine) almost by chance a few years ago—and the experience proved so liberating that we kept going. The other splendid historical precedent for it is the frequent appearance in medieval sources of fiddle players in pairs, like the brothers Charles and Jean Orbus who played for the fifteenth-century theorist and composer Tinctoris: ‘At Bruges, I heard Charles take the treble and Jean the tenor in many songs, playing the fiddle so expertly and with such charm that the fiddle has never pleased me so well.’

There are various ways of creating a programme for a recording. You can record someone’s complete output within a genre—but no one wrote their songs and dances exclusively for soprano and fiddles. You can devise a programme around a theme—well, the overwhelming topic for solo songs is, of course, unrequited love, but that would mean leaving out so many interesting lyrics and I’m easily as fascinated by words as by music. Or you can just make a delicious and varied selection of great music from among your own personal favourites and go into a recording studio.

A studio? When it is a truth universally acknowledged that early music must always be recorded in a lovely country church? How could we deprive ourselves of all those stirring times when your best ever performance fades into a Gothic silence accompanied only by the distant roar of a ride-on lawnmower, or a reassuring helicopter accompanying the passage of Someone Very Important to the nearest country house hotel? Without a backward glance, as it turned out.

Angel Studios in Islington, north London, had the ideal room. It had one of the finest and most musical engineers around, Steve Price, who was actually excited by the challenge. And in a studio we could clothe our—completely straight—performances of medieval and Renaissance repertoire with the sound of a lovely country church if we wanted, or perhaps a courtly chamber or a village green.

A prison cell is where this recording begins: with an anonymous thirteenth-century English song, Ar ne kuth ich sorghe non, also known as The Prisoner’s Song. The handwriting and various linguistic features of the text fit with the first half of the thirteenth century and the south of England, most probably London or Essex. The story, though, is timeless—the singer has been wrongfully convicted and prays for release.

Next, an English Dance from around the same time—in acoustic terms we went out of doors to record this one, and Pavlo and Mark gradually doubled themselves on separate tracks until there were eight of them altogether.

O rosa bella is English too, by a composer who hid his light under a bushel of alternative names: tantalizingly little is known about the life and career of John Bedyngham / Bodigham / Bellingun / Benigun / Boddenham. O rosa bella is a heartfelt lament from a young man who thinks he’s dying of love for an unattainable girl.

Ah, courtly love—a particularly male emotion this. You worship a pale and beautiful lady of noble birth, but cannot ever hope to make her yours. She is out of your reach and usually married. And round this symbol of unattainability grew a whole genre of music and poetry in the Middle Ages. The troubadours and trouvčres of France were the chief exponents of this art form, and very heart-rending it is too, this exquisite marriage of beautiful melody and hopelessness. Far be it from me to point out that putting a woman on a pedestal, declaring her virtue to be beyond price and languishing after her gives said woman absolutely no opportunity, should she fancy it, of actually stepping off her pedestal without incurring your total revulsion. See how quickly Bernart de Ventadorn despairs of the whole sex in his Can vei la lauzeta mover. But it is a beautiful and tragic song, atmospherically coloured here by Mark’s improvised accompaniment.

And when does a young man’s fancy lightly turn to thoughts of courtly love? Why, in spring, when you ‘cast a clout’ and venture out to enjoy nature, red in tooth and claw. Or beak and claw, in the case of Jehan Vaillant’s Par maintes foys—count the number of birds vying for supremacy of the skies.

Let’s not forget the ordinary kind of love, which often resulted in marriage, after which familiarity bred contempt. The French expressed this staple ingredient of the human condition best, in their ‘songs of the ill-wed’, and Trop est mes maris jalos is a splendid, earthy example of sisters doing it for themselves.

Next, we move to Italy, cradle of the Renaissance, and to a song that began my passion for really early music when I heard James Bowman sing it on one of his early recordings with David Munrow. The mix of transparency and subtlety in Landini’s Giunta vaga biltá draws you in right from the start. This too is a courtly love lyric, but more positive, more confident—true Italianate appreciation of a beautiful woman. The only sadness behind it lies in the knowledge that Francesco Landini was himself blind.

The Italian way of life attracted people from northern Europe even in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—the Flemish composer Johannes Ciconia spent his working life in Rome and Padua, where he composed the next two songs especially to tickle the vanity of his patrons. Per quella strada, for the Carrara family of Padua, and Una panthera, in honour of the city of Lucca, depict heraldic devices with breathtaking coloratura virtuosity. I’ve been singing both of them for years with Pavlo and Mark, but they waited until we were in the studio to tell me that they’d always fancied doing the three-part Una panthera without vocals. We had the technology, so Mark added the middle part on a separate track, creating a once-in-a-lifetime performance. In concert, they have to include me.

With the masterpieces of Guillaume Dufay, our only difficulty lay in choosing just a few favourites. In the end, we went for the sophisticated syncopations of one of his Italian lyrics, L’alta belleza tua, and the sensuous pathos of Helas mon dueil. And we couldn’t leave out his setting of Petrarch’s poem Vergene bella. This is a plea to the Virgin for help in a man’s struggle with his life; it would have been blasphemous to say so in Dufay’s lifetime, but the lyric is almost like a troubadour’s plea to his beloved and distant lady. The difference is that the singer trusts completely in the Virgin: ‘You have never turned away—hear my prayer.’

The next song is simply one of the cleverest pieces of contemporary music ever to have come out of France—sometime before the year 1418. Le greygnour bien is a benchmark of the Ars subtilior—that ‘more subtle art’ which deploys conflicting time signatures and complex rhythms to display its conceits. This exquisitely mannered repertoire has fascinated audiences since it was written, and easily bears comparision with the most ‘difficult’ of modern music.

Finally, to Spain: we’ve given many performances of the Four Planctus, or Laments, from Las Huelgas, a Cistercian convent near Burgos. And each one is a premiere—after the first, unaccompanied lament for King Sancho, I sing the remaining three over Pavlo and Mark’s improvised playing. In the studio, I recorded the first piece alone, and then we performed the rest of the work twice through. As often happens, the first performance was so powerful that it was the obvious choice.

Mark and Pavlo are players of international standing on the Baroque viol and violin—I never fail to be moved by the passion and spontaneity of their performances on medieval fiddles, and I’m bowled over by their commitment to getting the most out of these less sophisticated instruments. And Stephen Henderson’s experience with the repertoire and familiarity with studio techniques made him an invaluable co-producer. It was one of those magical recordings that was a delight to make from start to finish, thanks also to Steve and Mat in the control room. Whether you’re discovering this wondrous music for the first time or are revisiting much-loved repertoire, I hope you enjoy these pieces as much as we do.

Catherine Bott © 2006

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