Le jeu de Robin et de Marion

& Mottetti & Rondeau polifonici di Adam de la Halle
Ensemble Micrologus
Baryton CDM0026 (© 2003)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his account of the Pastourelle of Robin and Marion  by ‘the last of the trouvères’, Adam de la Halle, is painted in very bright aural colours indeed! The brash sounds of shawm, bagpipe and trumpet dominate in a spirited rendition of Adam’s music, but there are also calmer and beguiling episodes on double flute and harps where the composer’s more lyrical side is on display. Adam stands intriguingly at the confluence of the ars antiqua  and ars nova  styles, and it is fascinating that although his music inclines mainly towards the former it remained very popular and was copied long after his death, by which time the latter style was firmly in the ascendant.

The Ensemble approaches the work with their hallmark naiveté of style, vocal and instrumental, which works very well in this bucolic context. We should perhaps bear in mind that this synthesis of apparently ‘country’ verse and popular melody existed in a stylized fictional courtly world of shepherds and shepherdesses, created and performed by highly sophisticated 13th-century courtiers and professional musician/poets, so perhaps any rough rural edges to their performances were just as contrived as those cultivated by 21st-century professional musicians! There is in any case no doubt of the 13th-century taste for the bright and (to us) garish, and I have little doubt that the very immediate sounds of shawm and cornamuse and the Ensemble’s bright stringed instruments would have delighted the original audiences for this entertaining work. Given that we can be pretty sure that the Jeu de Robin et de Marion  would have been ‘staged’ in some sense of the word, I wonder if a case can be made for it being one of the earliest examples of operas. The addition of further lively dances and polyphonic motets by Adam valuably fills out our impression of the versatility of the composer, and of the Ensemble Micrologus. It is a pity in light of the vividness of the recording that the (uncredited) medieval illustrations of the Robin and Marion geste which cover the CD booklet are pixilated almost out of existence and lose much of their original impact. For those of you who like to sample tracks, please note that the track divisions are those denoted by the red Roman numerals rather than the black Arabic ones.

D. James Ross

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