Francesco Landini, who died in 1397, was long known through just a few pieces chosen to represent Italian music of the fourteenth century. Recordings treating his music in more detail, however, and this one by Britain's Gothic Voices, can stand up to any of them. The mixed-voice group (one women, four men) takes a sparse approach, with many pieces unaccompanied and a small harp played by Andrew Lawrence-King the only instrument on hand. The selection of pieces is ideal for illuminating the stylistic issues in the music, which is simpler in structure than that of Landini's French contemporary Machaut, but equally expressive. Gothic Voices presents both monophonic and polyphonic pieces, whose interaction is important to an understanding of Landini's style, and they surround his compositions with anonymous works and pieces by other composers that expand upon various aspects of his music, which, to judge from the gorgeous cover images reproduced from the so-called Squarcialupi Codex, was regarded as classic. Landini's multipart pieces fell into two genres, the madrigale (a distant ancestor to the Renaissance madrigal) and the ballata, more influenced by the formal sophistication of French music. The distinctions are clearly illustrated, as is the evolving conception of the relationship between sacred and secular embodied in Landini's music. Each text is presented in Italian and summarized in English, and booklet notes appear in both languages. Although this disc does not have either the sensuous beauty or the sweeping conceptions of releases by Jordi Savall and his compatriots, general listeners will find both elegance and education within.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim