This wonderful disc, centred around the Missa Nobilis et pulcra by Walter Frye, presents fifteenth century English liturgical music composed in honour of Saint Katherine of Alexandria, the early fourth century Christian saint and virgin, who was martyred by order of the Roman Emperor Maxentius.
The music presented here is quite sumptuous, with Walter Frye’s Mass for three voices proving a real revelation. Its five sections are spread throughout the disc. This is the fourth disc for Hyperion which The Binchois Consort have dedicated to the music of Frye, though the only other I have heard is The Lilly and the Rose (CDA68228). On this evidence I will be investing in the others. The Mass itself is based upon the plainsong used in Matins on the feast day of Saint Katherine on 25th November. The music is beautifully sung by The Binchois Consort, who really bring out the mellifluous quality of the music. A super find.
Of the rest of the music presented on this disc, one name stands out—John Dunstaple, probably the best-known composer here. His Gaude virgo Katherina is quite beautiful, as is his Salve scema sanctitatis, especially in the way the composer divides the texts between the different voices. Whilst the music of Robert Driffelde shows that The Binchois Consort and their director Andrew Kirkman’s zeal in searching the musical byways for gems is worth it—these mass movements are wonderful. The setting by Thomas Byttering, a composer new to me, is likewise charming, En Katerine solennia fully deserving its place here.
This is an excellent disc, with The Binchois Consort in brilliant voice throughout. They are unfailingly well-balanced and controlled—the warm polyphony is expertly and clearly enunciated, whilst the tempos bring out the best from the music. The recorded sound is excellent, while the booklet notes, only in English, are informative and valuable. Full Latin texts and English translations also included.