There can't be many vocal ensembles boasting a sculptor-in-residence! Still, three discs into a project celebrating and exploring the culture of late medieval English music and alabaster, the Binchois Consort's unusual 'add-on' makes sense—even if the liner notes' reference to recovering ‘a direct experiential sense of the possible synergies' takes some untangling. This latest instalment references St Katherine, whose martyrdom on the wheel stimulated a cult following in 15th-century England (not to mention a pyrotechnic take by 20th-century fireworks manufacturers). At its heart is a Mass by Walter Frye based on a plainsong Matins responsory sung on Katherine's feast day; around it are woven motets in honour of the saint by Dunstaple; appropriate chants including Nobilis et pulchra, its 'faburden' gilding ravishingly mellifluous; two Mass movements by Driffeld; and an anonymous Gloria expertly reconstructed by the late Philip Weller (to whom the disc is dedicated) .
Director Andrew Kirkman characterises Midlands alabaster as 'easily malleable and beautifully luminous', a description that could readily be applied not only to the programme he's artfully assembled, but equally to the Binchois's performance of it. Theirs is a music-making with all sense of ‘self' expunged—the words suavely transmitted rather than interpreted.
Tautly delivered, Byttering's En Katherine solennia lends rhythmically muscular contrast to Frye’s closely-woven composure, while the Dunstaple Salve scema sanctitatis engineers a gloriously refulgent conclusion.