At the centre of what the Scottish Tourist Board likes today to call the ‘Kingdom of Fife’ is the town of St Andrews. Now famed as much for its golf courses as for the striking location of the cathedral and Bishop’s castle, in the Middle Ages it was a city at the centre of the diocese that extended from the Tay to the Tweed.
The early ecclesiastic inhabitants of St Andrews were loosely affiliated to Rome, and there were strong links with the Continental mainland, with the bishops almost exclusively coming from Norman families. It should therefore come as no surprise to find that St Andrews is the original home of a manuscript of polyphonic music whose contents originated in Paris.
But what is surprising is the very nature of the music to be found in the pages of this manuscript. Liturgical idiosyncrasies abound as local musicians infuse the standard ‘Parisian’ repertory with references to their own Saint Andrew, and the musical idiom finds itself stripped of many of the obfuscating intricacies beloved of Continental contemporaries, leaving a style which is more direct and – it could be argued – more accessible to the modern ear.
Although not a liturgical reconstruction of a Lady Mass in St Andrews around 1230 or so, the repertory on this disc well reflects the liturgical inclusiveness of the musical culture that the cathedral engendered. ‘Rex, virginum amator’, a troped Kyrie, is followed by the troped Gloria ‘Per precem’. ‘Missus Gabriel’ and ‘Hodierne lux’ are Sequences, and further troped items are the Sanctus settings ‘Mater mitis’ and ‘Voce vita’ and the Agnus Dei ‘Factus homo’. This recording also includes two monophonic troped items, ‘Christe ierarchia’ and ‘Archetipi mundi’ which give a sense of the intellectual hothouse that the cathedral and its environs must have represented: the texts of both are stuffed full of subtle allusion and display a learnedness that extends to Greek.
'In bringing this repertory to life in so convincing a manner, they [Red Byrd] allow the listener to share in the beauty of polyphony coming into a period of rich blossom. That they have done so with such consummate artistry places us all in their debt' (Opera Today, USA)
'Recorded in an atmospherically resonant acoustic, the singing is throaty rather than floaty, with just enough guttural emphasis to sound plausibly monkish' (International Record Review)
'beautifully performed and intelligently recorded' (BBC Music Magazine)
'a first-rate addition for any collection … Do not hesitate to acquire this, and put in a good word for more of the same' (Fanfare, USA)