Music for Saint Katherine of Alexandria

The Binchois Consort, Andrew Kirkman
66:17
hyperion CDA68274

This recording consists of music dedicated to St Katherine, of wheel fame. Seemingly she is the only female saint apart from the Virgin Mary to have generated sufficient music in England during the fifteenth century to fill a compact disc. The centrepiece of this record is Walter Frye’s three-part, but euphonious, Missa Nobilis et pulchra, a complete surviving mass cycle. Of the remaining music, it is fair to say that the two impressive isolated mass movements by “Driffelde” – probably the Robert Dryffelde who put in a hefty shift as a vicar-choral at Salisbury 1424-68 (though his surname suggests a provenance in Driffield, in the East Riding of Yorkshire) – are simply for the feast of a virgin, for which Katherine nonetheless qualifies. Particularly striking is an anonymous work, an isolated Gloria “Virgo flagellator” also in three parts. Only the tenor and over half of the contratenor parts survive but it has been reconstructed by the late Philp Weller to provide a satisfying and idiomatic whole, a most worthwhile labour. Anything composed by John Dunstable is likely to make its mark in the company of music of this, or indeed any other, period and it is true to say that his two motets included here – the substantial Salve seema sanctitatis which brings the disc to a sonorous close, and the more serene and modestly proportioned Gaude virgo Katherina – confirm his pre-eminence among mediaeval composers, notwithstanding the suavity of Frye’s mass. Performances are as fine as we have come to expect from the Binchois Consort, not least in Byttering’s energetic En Katherine solennia. In the accompanying booklet, there is the bonus of scholarly and readable notes, illustrated by photographs of relevant works created by the Consort’s sculptor in residence, Sarah Danays.

Richard Turbet

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