The songs & motets on this album are typical of the stylistic innovations of Burgundy during the 1420s — namely, a "smooth" melodic style embedded in "thick" counterpoint emphasizing thirds — particularly as expressed in travels to Italy. Ciconia has emerged as the most prominent musician of the previous generation to have undertaken such a musical transplant, and of course Dufay was to become the most prominent composer to emerge amid the developments of the 1420s. (Regarding the technical developments, one might contrast my characterization above with e.g. sinewy lines & syncopation.) The de Lantins were obviously masters of this style, and are usually assumed to be brothers.
The performance relies more on instruments than some, including extensive doubling of parts at times. Whereas I'm not an enthusiast for the sound of such doubling, it does supposedly reflect practice in Italy, where much of this music would have been composed. That said, and with perhaps a bit more of an "operatic" vocal style than I would ideally prefer, the ensemble nonetheless projects a keen sense for the music: Melodies are articulated well, and the overall pace & program yield an enjoyable album. The sound is vibrant, with a pleasant mix of timbres from instrumentalists who are among the most proficient in such historical style.
As I wrote briefly in the remarks introducing it here, the album also includes a piece with a misogynist acrostic, noted for the reader/listener in the notes. While such an explicit sentiment is rare in music of the period (or rarely identified, perhaps), it does raise issues of cultural difference across the centuries (& continents). Should one feel ashamed to enjoy such a song? What of the remainder of the album, consequently? The specificity of this example gives us a bit of a focus for these questions, which can otherwise be rather diffuse when it comes to historical (or world) art & music. A case for hearing this (and other) music can certainly be made as a matter of historical inquiry & documentation, but such an argument becomes a bit different when it appears on a "favorites" list such as this. My approach of the moment, then, is to add this caveat, although I don't feel as though the tension is actually resolved. (Would the album be improved if the performers simply left off the song in question?)
Pace that caveat, then, this is a very interesting (which the caveat doesn't diminish) & sometimes compelling articulation of some very accomplished, yet relatively unknown, music from a crucial period in the history of Western Europe. This Burgundian sense of melody & counterpoint was to become the dominant European sense for the next century at least, leading into the early imperial period. That it emerged from a region undergoing intense political strife at the time should also be noted — this is an early (well documented, that is) situation of hybridity, and so perhaps broadly relevant today, including for its questionable choices.
To renaissance secular listTodd M. McComb