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Recordings

The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens
10 Apr 2006

The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens

Holding “The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry” in my hands, I pondered for a moment whether it belonged on my bookshelf or in the CD cabinet.

The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens

The Orlando Consort

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907398 [CD]

$16.99  Click to buy

The recording is housed in a handsome, finely illustrated, hard-bound volume, admittedly jewel-case sized, but running to over 100 pages by the time translations are included—substantial enough to suggest this might be a book accompanied by a CD, rather than the other way around, although it is clear that it is the musical program that has elicited the text. More close to the mark is that “The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry” is something of a well-cultivated garden itself, where diverse elements—literary, iconographic, horticultural, and musical—blossom into a satisfyingly harmonious whole. Or, to adopt a more explicitly musical metaphor, the production offers a fantasia on gardens in the pre-modern world.

The diversity of the anthology is impressive. Although thematically unified around horticultural images, the music ranges over a three-hundred-year span from c. 1250 to the 1560’s and represents six national styles; the musical texts themselves move between the suffering pangs of amour courtois, the spiritual eroticism of the Song of Songs, and more earthly forms of conjugal pleasure. Additionally, the book presents short essays by various authors on the history and literary sources of the medieval garden, a modern evocation of the medieval garden, and extensive program notes on the music, published with handsome reproductions of period iconography and photographs of historic gardens. Interestingly, the recording and book are suggestive of the ways in which music was heard, not in isolation, but always in a context, and it further reminds us that gardens were not only images in musical texts, but also sensory-rich sites for music making. Our modern propensity for i-Pods and the like gives music a mobility that opens it to seemingly limitless numbers of potential contexts, but at the same time, mediated through the personal headset, the music and the hearer are both artificially isolated from surroundings. By contrast, it is the rich interaction of surroundings and music that the Orlando Consort so splendidly evokes and celebrates here.

The singing of the Orlando Consort is highly accomplished, characterized by both naturalness and flair. The ensemble sound is full and free in tone, vibrant and resonant, though with a tight focus. The fullness of sound can leave one wanting a taste of simpler, clearer timbres from time to time, but the characteristic exuberance is easy to appreciate.

One of the difficulties of anthology programs is making sufficient stylistic distinction between pieces, and admittedly, there is a strong degree of similarity in the Consort’s approach to the different works here. The use of period vernacular and geographically inflected Latin pronunciations adds a measure of distinction, certainly, but one wonders if the musical palette itself might have also been more varied. In the end, however, these are compelling and highly committed performances. In context of a so well conceived and richly produced program, it is an offering you will want for either your bookshelf or your CD cabinet . . . or perhaps even both.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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