Lancaster and Valois: French & English Music ca. 1350-1420 features the English early music vocal group Gothic Voices firing on all cylinders in repertoire that it loves: surveying musical currents beginning with Guillaume Machaut and leading up to the dawn of the Renaissance in about 1420. This era is the dominion of single-named composers represented to posterity by only by 2-10 works and numerous pieces that remain anonymous despite some items finding wide distribution in manuscripts of the time. Lancaster and Valois were the two royal houses that ruled England and France, respectively, and this fact forms the basis for the program, a general enough concept to allow Gothic Voices' wide latitude in selecting its content.
The most impressive piece here is undoubtedly the Credo by the composer Pycard, who may have been French or English; all that is known of him is that he served as a clerk in the employ of John of Gaunt in the 1390s. Represented by nine works in the Old Hall Manuscript, Pycard's six-minute, four-voice Credo is unusually long, elaborate, and complex in a time when "elaborate and complex" was generally the rule, but "long" was practically unknown. Solage, the leading light of the ars subtilior, is heard through his virelai "Tres gentil cuer amoureux," and numerous other pieces here are equally sophisticated technically. Nevertheless, these oddments are balanced with works that are more direct in style, though all of the music is rather involved business for the singers, and it is here where Gothic Voices admirably acquit themselves . No matter how confusing the text, alien the harmony, or awkwardly rhythmic these obscure and seemingly alchemic works may be, Gothic Voices find the right expression and interpretation in order to make them comprehensible. Lancaster and Valois a fast-moving program, and one that makes sense of the glossolalia of musical endeavors belonging to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.