Have you ever let your eye wander over your music collection, and then anent some particular item paused to ask yourself why the hell you still have that? In the course of moving some things around this past weekend, my gaze came to rest on this CD, which is a remaster of a recording originally made in the 1970s by the since-departed David Munrow and the (still living for the most part, I think) Early Music Consort of London.
I had a Flemish polyphony moment somewhere between the spring and fall of 2002. (We aren’t judging, right? I was finishing my senior thesis about Roger Williams and all dreamy about starting graduate school – I’m happy I didn’t end up obsessed with something even more annoying. Like, you know, German art songs or something.) I believe this CD was acquired about that time. If I remember correctly, the appeal lay in the fact that it was vocal music but with a small ensemble – once could hear all the parts (and ignore the texts) and begin to appreciate singing qua singing without the experience being overwhelming the way opera can be early on. I also think that I purchased this at least in part out of guilt. I’d made myself a free copy from the CD collection at one of the undergraduate libraries and I felt bad. And also I wanted the liner notes and texts. But mostly I think I felt guilty. (I did have a nice conversation about early music with the fellow undergraduate who worked at the circulation desk. College: some parts of it sucked, but 80% of it was pretty great – where else other than PhD programs or opera blogs are you going to find yourself surrounded by so many of your fellow nerds at once?)
So I listened to it again. Most of it, anyway. Some of the interpretations I found strange, e.g. the funereal rendition of Josquin’s “allegez moi” (shorter translation of the short text: “pretty girl, will you touch my penis?”) but maybe that was early music irony and I just failed to get it.
Then there was the solo regal version of “Ein frölich wesen.” I had to look up what a regal is, but before I did that my sense from how it sounded was if you hooked a set of bagpipes up to a small chamber organ and also put some bees into it, and gave it a few good kicks to get the bees going, and then lowered your protective visor and played your song – if you did all that, you would approximate what I heard on this recording. This is one of those things that confirms me in my sense that the Baroque through very early Romantic is the place for me, and I should stay out of the Renaissance, because I honestly do not understand why anyone would think that producing this particular sequence of noises was a good idea.
But any way. Bee organ machines aside, I liked the instrumental numbers better than the vocal ones – some of the secular songs, e.g. “el grillo” or “Scaramella” were a little too Renaissance Faire for me. As for the mass movements and motets – well, I’ve said this before, but except for Bach and a few other things (often depending on who is performing it) I don’t listen to a lot of church music, so I am probably not the ideal audience for this in the first place.
Finally, I was pleased to note that the career of Rogers [sic] Covey-Crump was not limited to that recording of the Coffee Cantata with Emma Kirkby. He’s on this too, as one of the category three tenors who appear whenever the arrangement calls for more than one or two.