David Skinner / Alamire / Magdala

Magna Carta

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The idea of a collection of pieces marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta is not a bad one, but that's where the virtues of this budget British collection end. There aren't any pieces with a directly traceable connection to the legendary document, but plenty of indirect ones could be argued, centering on the rise of secular traditions, polyphony as a potentially democratic texture, the erosion of the divine right of kings. But what is here is a random collection of medieval music, not all of it even British. Misinformation abounds: the presence of Hildegard of Bingen's chant Virga ac diadema is justified with the contention that Hildegard's music would have been heard in Britain, which is likely untrue. The idea that the pieces on this album "have origins in oral tradition" is true in only the vaguest sense; what defined the high era of plainchant was its reliance on a written tradition that developed over centuries. But what's most annoying to those who love the music of the medieval era is the totally random nature of the program, with carols, organum, and chant from centuries apart mashed together. There's nothing wrong with the performances, with a couple of different groups led by the reputable director David Skinner. One thinks that they must have been collected from other recordings, although there is no indication of from where. Those wishing to celebrate the birthday of the Magna Carta or learn more about medieval English music might investigate an album with the latter title by the Hilliard Ensemble.

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