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Bold, Fearless & Rash
(Music from the Courts of Burgundy 1363-1477)
Gentile Spiritus (Lute Trios and Spanish Songs from the Segovia Codex)
Out of the Orient (Islamic influence in Europe, from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, Llibre Vermell and other sources 13th to 15th centuries)
Sara Stowe, Jon Banks, Henry Stobart, Matthew Spring
Ensemble Music Label EML 007, 053 & 054
[www.skeetmusic.com & Jon@alcuin.fsnet.co.uk]

The greatest attraction for me in these CDs is Sara Stowe's sophisticated yet unaffected singing, giving a feeling of intimacy and direct communication. Sirinu's concerts, on the other hand, are enjoyable for watching how a small group of four versatile multi-instrumentalists exchange instruments to create a tapestry of timbres. They are all academics, and the CDs are underpinned by research and discovery.

The repertoires here are very different from each other, and I concentrate here on presentation. My favourite is the earliest, top of the illustration, Music from the Courts of Burgundy 1363-1477, and best for me in it is Myn hertis lust, sung in early English with a modern translation which makes it easy to follow.

There's the rub; readers of Musical Pointers will be familiar with my views about texts for CDs. The other songs are supplied with English translations from the French, but no parallel original texts, so the repetitions tend to pall. The six-page insert gives good background information and you can mostly work out who is playing what in the numerous short tracks. There is also a lengthy note of the complicated microphone set-up, and the recording in a Cornwall church is very satisfying.

The problem gets progressively worse in the other CDs, probably because of a need to economise, though I must emphasise that many listeners will be content to listen passively to the music, without concerning themselves much with what it is all about. In Gentile Spiritus there are detailed accounts of the music in its complexity (lute trios) and simplicity (songs) but no texts are given. Half of the tracks are Lute Trios, interspersed with Spanish Songs from the Segovia Codex of c.1500. This is mainly gentle, soothing music, ideal for late night listening. But despite lacking texts, it is recommendable and is recorded well (albeit with only two microphones) in a church at Headington Quarry, Oxford.

I have more difficulty with the latest of the CDs sent to me, music Out of the Orient from the 13th to 15th centuries. Information is restricted to only two pages of background about the influence of Islamic writing and music in southern Spain and northern Europe from the 13th century. Recorded with a single microphone in the same quarry church in Oxford, it has more of a dry, studio feel on my equipment, but that comment has to be subjective, as CDs sound so differently on different equipment.

Presumably all the texts, and probably English translations of them, are out of copyright and exist on Sirinu computers? For internet surfers and purchasers a possible solution might be to put them onto a website, Sirinu's own, or otherwise by seeking the hospitality of Emily Ezust in her magnificent resource, The Lied and Art Song Text Page, which also covers 'many choral works and other types of classical vocal pieces. It includes thousands of translations'.

Medieval music is a competitive field, and some other record companies (e.g. Signum) have the resources to offer more comprehensive presentation. These are, finally, attractive CDs of performances by an enterprising and very professional group, but best try to see and hear Sirinu in their live appearances; they tour the Early Music festivals.

© Peter Grahame Woolf