This Naïve set includes two earlier releases, Gautier de Coincy: Les Miracles de Nostre-Dame and Richard the Lionheart: Troubadors & Trouvères, performed by Alla Francesca, a vocal and instrumental ensemble that focuses on music of the 12th-15th centuries. The first disc is devoted to songs by 13th century cleric Gautier de Coincy. He considered himself primarily a poet, but he also provided music for his songs, usually arranging preexisting melodies. Alla Francesca performs the songs with simplicity, as was certainly de Coincy's intention, because his stated goal was to inspire devotion through the texts. A variety of soloists, all with pure, sweet, unmannered voices, perform the songs. The accompaniments were not written in the manuscripts, so the players, using mostly viol, fiddle, transverse flute, harp, bagpipes, and tambourine, improvise accompaniments that are at once inventively worked out and unobtrusive enough not to obscure the melody. The simple modal melodies, though elegant, reverent, and frequently lovely, aren't blood-stirring, and may not be the ideal introduction to the medieval period for listeners new to medieval music, but early music enthusiasts are likely to appreciate the quality of the performances and the singers' and players' attentiveness to appropriate performance practice.
A better introductory experience might be the second disc, the full title of which, Richard Coeur de Lion: Troubadours and Trouvères at the courts of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Marie de Champagne, and Geoffrey of Brittany (12th century), gives an idea of just how diverse and dispersed the sources of this music were. The troubadours and trouvères, who came from different areas of France, spoke different languages, and whose musical styles were very different, were united by the predominant theme of their poetry, the chivalrous but unattainable quest for courtly love. (Richard the Lionheart, though King of England, spent most of his life in Aquitaine, in southwest France, where his court was a gathering place for musicians.) The CD includes music by some of the most famous troubadours, such as Bernart de Ventadorn, and trouvères like Gace Brulé, as well as many less familiar, and several anonymous songs. Because of the romantic content of the songs, as well as the more flamboyant musical style of some of them, the singers of Alla Francesca perform them with considerably more passion and abandon. Although there were many women trobairitz and trouvères, all the writers represented here are men, but some songs are written from the woman's perspective, and some can be interpreted as dialogues. That provides for a nice variety in the performances, with the songs divided between men and women. The accompaniments are simple, but lively. The sound on both discs is clean and clear, with a good sense of presence.