The recording begins and ends with jolly character pieces by Sermisy, but these are not typical of this selection from Attaingnants’s publications. Virelai excel at intimacy and there is plenty of that here. Catherine King’s clean and agile, slightly wistful voice is not one of great passion, but it fits beautifully with the lute, viols, and William Lyons’s gorgeous round-toned recorder, as a singing instrument rather than a soloist--ideal for this repertoire. There is no showing off here, no flamboyance or fuss; simplicity and light abound. Each performance is accurate, sensitive, with apt but not excessive ornamentation and impeccable ensemble. The programme is nicely constructed, with varied tone colours and moods holding the casual listener’s interest, and groupings of variants of the same tune informing and delighting the more scholarly. The first appearance of the three renaissance viols is a lovely moment, and the spinet and lute solos, by Gary Cooper and Jacob Heringman, are to be treasured for their timing and delicacy, and as little distillations of the styles of the 16th century. Or listen to Gervaise’s bransles, settings of some of the best renaissance pop tunes, which will send you away whistling.
Selene Mills, Early Music Review, April 1998
. . . Virelai shows great imagination. . . rich use of instruments. . . . The disc, in its conception, provides faithful witness to a refined art which is perfectly reproduced by the discreet preciousness of the ensemble Virelai.
Stanislas Perreau, Classica (France), 1998
This disc in no way doubles what has gone before thanks to its own musical qualities (the very beautiful and pure diction of Catherine KingÕs light voice) and thanks also to the choice of pieces. Lute and keyboard solos are alternated with faithful arrangements of the vocal compositions with appropriate ornamentation: in this way the ensemble Virelai describes not just a repertoire, but also the main methods of interpreting this music as it might have ben when first composed. . . . at last we can hear these works as they were represented by painters: hrp and lute duos, voice or flute with lute, flute and viols, etc. Thus, the songs are brought to life aurally. . . . The strong presence of the instrumentalists and the way they compliment the voice attests to the seriousness and professionalism of English musicians in this domain, which can often otherwise be repetetive and constraining.
Diapason (France), 1998
Variety within stylistic unity
The explanation for Virelai’s choice of instrumentation is to be seen on the cover of the CD, on which is reproduced a detail from an anonymous Flemish painting from around 1540: three female musicians are singing and playing from part books which are so clearly painted that the piece which they are performing is clearly reconisable; it is the chanson "Jouissance vous donneray", by Claudin de Sermisy (c1490-1562). This song is in one of the 36 prints published by the Parisian publisher Pierre Attaingnant (c1494-1551/52). The picture proves that these songs were not only performed a cappella (something still widely done today), but certainly also in combinations of voices and instruments.
Virelai is one of the few ensembles to revive such practices, and on the present CD, the five musicians (plus Gary Cooper as a guest on spinet) attain an extraordinarily varied programme. The mezzo soprano Catherine King sings chansons of mostly melancholy character with an even timbre, meticulous early French pronunciation and much attention to a beautiful vocal line.
The songs are complemented by instrumental works, performed in some cases from part books, and, in others, from tablatures (which Attaingnant also published in large numbers). These performances succeed outstandingly throughout. It should be said that the dance music receives an "art music" treatment rather than a more conventional treatment (probably because of the soft instrumentation: recorders and flutes, viols, lute, harp). But because of this, within the programme’s diversity there is also a remarkable stylistic unity.
Ingo Dorfmüller, Fono Forum (Germany), July 1998 (translation Jacob Heringman)
A significant contribution to the repertoire