BUSNOIS Chansons – Asteria – Asteriamusica 0412
The modern reputation of Busnois (or as written on this release, Busnoys) has yet to approach that achieved in his lifetime, and his music–barring a pair of securely attributed masses–seldom appears except as a short work in a thematic collection. With Joshua Rifkin’s old Nonesuch LP long out of print, and Dominique Vellard’s CD in general circulation only as an MP3 download, there really aren’t many options if you want to buy a disc of the composer’s chansons. This makes Asteria’s new album, their fourth release, all the more welcome.
With two exceptions, the content is drawn exclusively from the Dijon Chansonnier, one of five songbooks that were copied in the Loire Valley in the latter part of the 15th century. Busnois was at the height of his fame at that time, and closely associated with the Court of Burgundy. Many of the Chansonnier’s roughly 160 chansons only survive in that manuscript, and it is the largest extant repository of secular pieces by Busnois, as well.
Those familiar with his music will know what to expect: something akin to the rhythmic subtleties of the Ars Subtilor movement of the late 14th and early 15th century, married to a clarity of structure and triadic consonance inherited from Binchois. Busnois’ preference for pairs of voices moving melismatically in thirds and tenths gives his work a sweetness that is apparent to this day, spiced by a strong fondness for imitative points, and themes that can move swiftly and easily from flowing to angular. Certainly there are many memorable chansons by composers that directly preceded Busnois–who can forget the likes of Dufay’s Se la face ay pale or Resvelllies vous, or Binchois’ tormented Dueil angoisseux?–but Busnois had a gift for writing what we would perceive as individualized melodies in expressive settings that are apparent in most of the content on this disc. Not that the emotional range of that poetry associated with courtly love was profound, but in so far as it could supply both variety and cause to celebrate beauty in-the-moment, Busnois’ music matches it.
You may recall from a review of their last recording (Un tres doulx regard, Asteriamusica 0309) that Asteria consists of Sylvia Rhyne, and Eric Redlinger. Rhyne brings a classically trained voice of considerable beauty and purity to the mix that, with Redlinger’s pleasant tenor and fine skill as a lutenist, furnish the three parts for these chansons. The timbres of Redlinger and Rhyne (the latter typically gets the superius) blend well, though hers is predominant. By comparison, the Orlando Consort in Ja que li ne s’i attende (Harmonia Mundi 907333, an excellent collection of sacred and secular pieces) provides a richer harmonic experience with three vocalists of equal sonority. On the other hand, I prefer Asteria’s pressing pace in Estil mercy that mirrors better (to my mind, at least) the intensity of the erotesis, furnished by the successive unanswered questions of a pleading lover that make up the first part of the setting. As in their last release, Redlinger also supplies a pair of lute solos: Sur mon ame, and the far better known Il sera pour vous. These are delivered cleanly, clearly, with attractive tone. The sound throughout is close and resonant, but avoids the cathedral effect of some early music recordings that veils independent musical lines.
As with previous Asteria releases, you can sample this album at their website, asteriamusica.com, and purchase their albums there, too. Warmly recommended.