Gratia plena: Hans Memling

Psallentes, The Royal Wind Music, Hendrik Vanden Abeele
Le Bricoleur LBCD 14

Unusual to have one CD based on a famous old master painting, but along with The Sword and the Lilly, a meditation on van der Weyden’s ‘The Last Judgement’ (Inventa INV 1008), we have another musing, this time on ‘The Annunciation’ by Hans Memling. His exquisitely detailed rendition of angelic musicians has allowed instrument builders to reconstruct instruments which have not survived in any other form, so he is an obvious inspiration for a CD programme. Like the Inventa CD, this CD programmes music relevant to the subject and details of the painting, assembling polyphony by de Ghizeghem, Agricola, Obrecht, Dufay, Compère, Mouton and Josquin played on recorders by The Royal Wind Band and sung by Psallentes, who also provide plainchant. The performances from these splendid Flemish ensembles are, like Memling’s painting, exquisitely detailed and wonderfully evocative. The sounds conjured up by consorts of beautifully tuned and blended Renaissance recorders are a delight, as are the female voices of Psallentes, also beautifully pure and focussed. My favourite tracks are where the voices and recorders combine in the larger-scale polyphony and culminating in a stunning account of the Gloria from the famously demanding Missa Maria zart by Obrecht, given a delightfully transparent performance here. With the imaginative blending of voices and recorders and the sheer musicality of these accounts, I was more persuaded by this painting-based musing, although the rather shallow supporting booklet in which Vanden Abeele writes a ‘Dear Hans’ letter to Memling and offers Gratias agimus tibi to him for the CD’s artwork rather trivialises this excellent project. I am on record elsewhere opining that a serious scholarship-based musical programme, such as this most definitely is, deserves a seriously scholarly programme note rather than some self-indulgent performer’s flight of fancy.

D. James Ross

One reply on “Gratia plena: Hans Memling”

Great review, thank you very much. As to the ‘self-indulgent’ remark: that feels a bit harsh. Writing a letter to Hans Memling is not a ‘performer’s flight of fancy’, but a vehicle for combining respect for the master with motivating the general layout of the programme. It furthermore underscores the basic idea for this series: To Memling, with love – and with some light-heartedness amidst a sea of overly serious and often rather dull programme notes. PS. My name is not ‘Abeele’ but ‘Vanden Abeele’, thanks for correcting!

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