Adieu m’amour: Music from the time of Agincourt
Amici Voices / Amici Sounds
T rating ****
It’s an uncomfortable fact that music of classical music celebrates war. The Agincourt Song, an obvious highlight of this CD, is a case in point. There isn’t a mention in any of its five verses of the agony and bloodshed of the battlefield, just a rousing celebration of victory. It’s a reminder that life at this time was “nasty, brutish and short”, but as the rest of this CD reminds us, it could also be extraordinarily refined – if you were lucky enough to be at the top of the social tree.
It’s also a reminder of how culturally entwined the courts of England and France were at the time of Agincourt, despite being at war for nearly 80 years. The language of the English court was French, and in English cultural like, French models set the tone – in poetry, music and architecture. Yet by the early 15th century the elaborate Burgundian musical style was on the wane, driven out by the new simpler and more ingratiating style of English composers like John Dunstaple and Leonel Power.
The best example on the CD of this simpler style is actually by an English King, thought precisely which “Roy Henry” wrote the smoothly harmonious Sanctus is a matter of conjecture. Alongside this are sacred pieces by English, French and Burgundian composers, showing an intriguing mix of English euphony and European sophistication. They’re performed by four young singers led by Terence Charlston of the Royal College of Music, and they make a wonderful sound.
The phrase “from the time of Agincourt” is interpreted generously; there is English plainchant from earlier centuries, and sacred music by Antoine Busnois and William Cornysh which date from later decades. The title song Adieu m’amour by Guillaume Dufay is the most beautiful on the album and the most intriguingly complicated is by an Englishman, Cornysh.
There are also a handful of fascinating keyboard works, performed by Charlston on a facsimile of the world’s oldest keyboard instrument, now in the RCM’s instrument museum. This CD offers an ideal introduction to wonderful music which is still too little known.
IVAN HEWETT, Daily Telegraph, Saturday 23 July 2016