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Fanfare Magazine: 45.3 (01-02/2022) 
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Reviewer: James V. Maiello

The music of Johannes Martini is well known those of us interested in Renaissance polyphony, but he is a less familiar name than, say, Josquin des Prez or Obrecht. Long associated with the ducal court at Ferrara, Martini’s Masses and motets are on the conservative side stylistically, but they are nonetheless some of the most refined and sophisticated of the period. Martini also wrote secular music in both French and Italian. With this album, La Fleur de Biaulté, their fifth on the Ricerar label, Le Miroir de Musique presents a fine sampler of Martini’s music that traverses the full range of his output. The music and its context are introduced in Murray Steib’s liner essay. Steib is an internationally respected musicologist whose meticulous research includes critical editions of Martini’s sacred music; his essay is compact, informative, and readable.


The album was recorded in September 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic escalated. As such, Martini’s motet O beate Sebastiane is an apt choice with which to open the program. St. Sebastian was frequently invoked as an intercessor to protect against plague in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The singers deliver a detailed reading of the motet, full of transparent textures and subtle refinements in phrasing and line. The choral blend is balanced evenly, and there is still a warmth that underlies the clarity. The other motets and Mass movements on the disc are treated similarly. Martini was a pioneer in the use of antiphonal choirs, and Quare fremuerunt gentes is typical of psalm settings. Like the other psalms on the album, the singers offer a subdued reading that is defined by clarity in both texture and diction. Their approach to plainchant and both imitative and free counterpoint in these individual items makes me wish they would tackle a full liturgical reconstruction in the future. Like the sacred vocal works, the sung chansons are refined and carefully controlled.


Among the instrumental selections, the pair of La Martinella and the later work La Martinella pittzulo are highlights; the players treat the two- and three-voice textures delicately. The other instrumental works include a dance-like Der newe pawer schwanz, that shows off nuanced viol playing, and Helas comment aves, which features exceptional bagpiping along with other loud instruments like the sackbut and shawm. The timbres here are just right, salient without being piercing. Most of the chansons are performed instrumentally as well but the players approach the counterpoint much as one would vocal lines, giving the music a flowing, singing quality. This is particularly evident in chansons like La fleur de biaulté and De la bonne chiere; a pair of settings of Fortuna desperata is gently rollicking. Again, after hearing Le Miroir de Musique in these individual works, one can only hope that its members turn their attention to some large-scale projects. Their choral sound and approach are ideally suited for this music, and the consort is top-notch.


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