NEW SETTINGS OF RENAISSANCE POEMS
In 1998, the members of Virelai conceived the idea of commissioning a series of new settings of renaissance love poems. Andrew Keeling and Elizabeth Liddle were the first composers we approached, and some of the pieces recorded here were first performed in August of 2000, in Radovljica, Slovenia. Over time, the project became in effect a collaborative song cycle. I call it a “cycle” because all of the composers (though they didn’t actually work together) were given the same brief: to write a short piece for voice, renaissance flute, viol and lute, setting a renaissance love poem (or to write an instrumental piece to puncutate the songs). It is therefore tied together by related themes and scorings. More amazingly, the various songs and instrumental pieces complement each other in previously unimagined ways. A great diversity of musical and poetic styles appears here, and yet there is a sense of complementarity. The cycle also has an open-endedness. We hope that this CD is a beginning, not an ending, to the process of gathering material.
Renaissance words, renaissance instruments, contemporary settings: this project ties together the worlds of early and contemporary music, and raises many interesting questions about composition, performance, text setting, the use of early instruments for new music and the relationship of old to new generally.
We are deeply indebted to all of the composers who contributed to this project. From us to them, profound thanks.
Jacob Heringman, 2002
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lute requirements and idiosyncrasies
Virelai was founded in 1991 by leading performers in the world of early music with a desire to illuminate neglected repertoire of the late middle ages and early renaissance, a fascination of the juxtaposition of old and new, and in the spirit of exploration and creativity.
Virelai made its Wigmore Hall debut in 1993, and has since performed in Prague Castle, the Manchester Early Music Series, the Magenta Music Festival, on the Dutch and British Early Music Networks, and in broadcasts of both old and new music for the BBC.
Virelai’s debut recording, Renaissance Love Songs, was a BBC Music Magazine cover mount CD. This attracted the attention of Virgin Classics, for whom Virelai went on to make a series of highly-acclaimed CDs – Ther is no Rose: Renaissance music for the Christmas season; Chansons Nouvelles, devoted to the marvellous but neglected repertoire of early 16th century Parisian chansons and dances; and Treasures from my minde: Songs and instrumental pieces by John Dowland, which was chosen by Gramophone as one of the Best CDs of 1999.
For the BBC, Virelai has recorded programmes of Dufay chansons, and of contemporary music by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Malcolm Bruno.
The four individual members of Virelai count among the world’s most distinguished performers and teachers of early music, all of them performing and recording as soloists and as members of leading ensembles including The Dufay Collective, Fretwork, Gothic Voices and Musicians of the Globe.
NEW SETTINGS OF RENAISSANCE POEMS
‘An intriguing set of new songs setting Renaissance love poems, performed by the group that commissioned them.’
The main challenge here was perhaps in the use of a Renaissance flute, a basically diatonic instrument. It can bend pitches well, of course, and is therefore suited to microtonal music; but one surprise about this group of pieces written for the Renaissance ensemble Virelai is that none of the composers used ‘extended’ techniques, and only one seems to have used microtones (Alastair Greig). The pieces are composed to fairly clear guidelines: a voice, a viol, a lute and a keyless flute; and texts from the years around 1600. So we have 18 pieces here, showing between them both coherence and variety. Each is about three minutes long – a further limitation that works very positively in that it tends to eliminate self-indulgence.
The 10 composers have a nicely varied set of approaches. Andrew Keeling, who provides the first two and last two pieces, neatly creating a cyclic impression, tends towards the folksong manner, partly because his lute writing favours broken chords.
David Stoll moves more in the direction of Dowland-with-wrong-notes and of imitation, both of which he does very well. The most modern sounding pieces come from Malcolm Bruno and Fabrice Fitch both very nicely handled; and perhaps the one to make the most original use of the intrinsic features of the instruments is Elizabeth Liddle, who provides a fascinating study of mainly open strings on the treble and bass viols.
Catherine King has no difficulty in encompassing the various vocal styles represented here; and the variety of approaches adds life to the anthology. Jacob Heringman who seems to have been mainly responsible for choosing the order of the pieces, provides much of the essential continuity with his always stylish lute playing.’
September 2003, Gramophone. Reviewed by David Fallows
© Gramophone Publications Ltd, 2003