On the surface, BITTER BALLADS appears to be a collection of Medieval or Renaissance songs: Paul Hillier and Andrew Lawrence-King are known early-music performers, the disc title has a Renaissance sound to it, and even the sound of the performances brings to mind English ballads. You may even recognize Bernart de Ventadorn's "Can vei la lauzeta" or Oswald von Wolkenstein's "Es fügt sich."
The catch here is that of the sixteen poems sung, only five of the melodies were composed to match them. For the rest, Hillier and Lawrence-King have taken existing tunes and matched them to different words. Thus, Ventadorn's song is sung here with words by Bertolt Brecht, and a poem by Charles Dickens finds itself with a traditional tune which might be quite at home in 16th- or 17th-century England.
The performances here are earthy and natural. Some of the songs are accompanied, others are not, as Hillier originally matched Brecht with Ventadorn to demonstrate that troubadour songs could--and probably were--performed as often without accompaniment as with. Lawrence-King is a sensitive partner to the singer and a skilled soloist in the transcribed Howard Skempton works.