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Briefly Noted: Polyphonies Oubliées

available at Amazon
Polyphonies Oubliées, Ensemble Gilles Binchois, Maîtrise de Toulouse, D. Vellard

(released on January 13, 2015)
Aparte AP097 | 107'16"

[Listen on YouTube]
Fauxbourdon is a term that can refer specifically to a Burgundian practice of augmenting a melody with two polyphonic voices below it, first notated in the early 15th century. More generally, it can be taken to mean any polyphonic adornment of a cantus firmus, usually in simple homophony. This new two-CD set from the Ensemble Gilles Binchois offers an overview of arrangements of this kind, with examples from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, all in Latin (sung here with an unapologetic French pronunciation). It includes male-voice settings, sung by the ensemble's five men in various combinations, as well as examples for mixed voices, with the children's voices of the Maîtrise de Toulouse on the top part.

The texts featured are generally longer ones — the Ordinary of the Mass, psalms, canticles like the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, litanies, and hymns — and the settings often alternate between the chant alone and the polyphonic version. This underscores the free rhythm often implied in this kind of music, flexible and flowing like the chant it ornaments. Gregorio Allegri's setting of the Miserere is a famous, exceptionally ornamented version, flowing back and forth between chant-like declamation and metered rhythm. It takes some getting used to, but a choir, especially a small one, can learn to sing such polyphonic formulas in a beautifully unified way, shown in related traditions descended from the practice in the Orthodox and Anglican churches. The music selected here is mostly by unknown composers, with some examples from Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Claudin de Sermisy, Jean de Bournonville, François-Louis Perne, and Aloys Kunc -- the last was choir master at the Cathedral of Toulouse in the late 19th century, a nice connection. Saori Sato on organ and Bernard Fourtet on serpent (!) provide occasional instrumental support.

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