Various Artists

Karl der Kühne und die burgundische Hofmusik

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The front cover shows a regally dressed renaissance nobleman and the device "Karl der Kühne (1433-1477) und die burgundische Hofmusik." One might ask, "Is Karl der Kühne some early Renaissance composer I haven't heard of yet?" He may be the man in the picture, but for the most part is not that behind the music. This disc is a compilation of music associated -- in some instances rather roughly -- with Burgundian Duke Charles the Bold, who led the Burgundy to its greatest glories, only to lose his land and his life to the armies of the Old Swiss Confederacy. At its height, Charles' Duchy stretched from the northern tip of present-day Holland down to near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Even in the fifteenth century such an impressive stretch of European real estate could not be had without a price. To his enemies, Charles the Bold was known as "Charles the Terrible," and for good reason; during his vengeful sack of the town of Dinant in 1466, Charles' army tied the hands of 800 burghers and tossed them into River Meuse, not to mention putting every other man, woman, and child to the sword.

Raum Klang prepared this collection in connection with a touring exhibit mounted by the Historical Museum in Berne, Switzerland, and it also serves as a supplement to the museum catalog prepared for the same. Much of the material was recorded for Swiss Radio by the group Les Haults Ménestrels de Charles le Téméraire, and other tracks are supplied from the Raum Klang catalog itself. A Virgin Classics recording of David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London in part of a Dufay mass is used to illustrate the role of sacred music in Charles' time, and certain pieces are utilized to amplify specific historic events in Charles' life, such as The Feast of the Pheasant, held in 1454. The main problem is that inferences between specific historic moments and specific pieces are drawn so broadly that one tends to doubt any actual connection; some pieces are arranged and others even improvised. Charles the Bold is known to have written two compositions, one of which is featured here (and inexplicably performed only instrumentally!). Apart from that, even the annotator feels motivated to apologize for not being able to draw a more direct connection between the program and Charles' court in a historic sense. There are some lovely moments in the collection, such as Lena Susanne Norin's touching account of Binchois' chanson "Adieu, Adieu, mon joieulx souvenir," but the tracks made specially for the collection by Les Haults Ménestrels de Charles le Téméraire are rather bland accounts of dances, fanfares, and other pieces that are, in some cases, merely speculative.

If there is a given piece here that one would like to hear, it is probably better to seek it out in its original source; the tracks unique to this disc are mainly just inferior. Although the booklet is illustrated, mostly with black and white images, with neither catalog nor exhibit to go with Raum Klang's Karl der Kühne (1433-1477) und die burgundische Hofmusik, it doesn't communicate very much about its subject, and merely consists of the music of his time, and some of it isn't even that.

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