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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Argentum et Aurum, Musical Treasures from the Early Habsburg Renassaince, Ensemble Leones, Marc Lewon

When done properly performances in the realm of early music bring a time long gone uncannily back into our lives, our present, and make us feel the distance. Ensemble Leones under Marc Lewon do that for us (or for me anyway) on their new CD Argentum et Aurum (Naxos 8.573346).

There are composers we may recognize, such as Heinrich Isaac, Guillaume Du Fay and Oswald von Wolkenstein, the latter of whom Ensemble Leones covered in a disk devoted to his songs, The Cosmopolitan, which I covered last May 30, 2014 on these pages. But there is a good representation of lesser-known and anonymous songwriters as well. Common to all the music heard here is its association with the Austrian Habsburg Empire in the early renaissance period.

This is music dating from around 1300 through the 1500's, a mix of sacred and secular, classical and folk-like popular music from that region. A product of a good amount of archival research conducted at the University of Vienna, about half of these pieces have never been heard on disk before. Lewon and Ensemble Leones give us authentic original instrument versions of the music, moving performances that capture the aural exoticism and archaic and/or contrapuntal harmonic practices fully. Of course the vocals are done without vibrato. They come off with much elan.

What we get is a lovely snapshot of an era and a region in all its musical richness. In the end we sit back and let the music and its often melismatic beauty wash over us. And in the process we get music both earthy and sublime, in ever-varied juxtapositions.

The performances are perfectly haunting. I would not hesitate on this one. If you seek something you haven't heard in the early music realm, this one gives it to you in the most moving of terms.

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