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Posted October 1, 2010
For listeners fascinated with early music, Naxos' new 2-CD compilation album of music by Anonymous, the most prolific composer in music history, might offer great value. For listeners with broader tastes in classical music, it's a slightly excessive compilation featuring a broad spectrum of vocal and instrumental works from the 15th-17th centuries. The collection might have been more effective if edited down to a single disc with more historical notes about the music and its effect on music history. For example, one version of Greensleeves, perhaps one of the most famous Anonymous tunes, seemed adequate. The second version included on disc 2 wasn't so distinctively unique to warrant a second track. Throughout the series, one can enjoy fascinating glimpses of almost all the seeds of Western music history: examples of sacred and secular choral forms, the evolution of polyphony, dances and chamber music, the progression of art song, and even use of dissonance and atonality. All very interesting, however in smaller doses.
The brief essay included in the attractive packaging seems written to simply arouse curiosity about the elusive and mysterious Anonymous as an important figure in Western music history. The package lacks any further musical explanation about each piece. But with 48 tracks, it would have been more costly to produce a more substantial booklet of information. Perhaps the collection's most disappointing flaw is a lack of translations of the vocal texts.
The performances themselves do seem well chosen from some of the world's finest early music artistes and ensembles; but listening to this voluminous collection is much like taking a cursory stroll through a rather packed museum without learning a whole lot about the art inside. If you are producing an interesting play, scoring an artistic film, teaching a music history course, or simply curious about early Anonymous music, you might find this set useful.
Posted October 1, 2010
Consider the case of Anonymous, one of the most prolific of all creative artists. A poet, playwright, painter and composer, Anonymous has been published in dozens of volumes, Anonymous' art has been displayed in museums (and on cave walls and the sides of subway trains) across the world. Anonymous is buried in cemeteries everywhere.
The Anonymous this recording celebrates is the musical Anonymous, a composer who flourished in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance and who composed in many genres. Obviously we are not speaking of one composer but one of many who wrote some highly engaging music. If you put the witty conceit aside and take the recording at face value, what we have is a very well chosen compilation of early music drawn from over a dozen Naxos recordings. What makes this work is the sheer variety of musical styles. There's lots of chant from the East and West, troubadour songs, selections from the Medieval Carmina Burana, English songs and consort music and. You name it and it is here. This kind of compilation might be too disjointed for early music purists who want to hear all of their Carmina Burana in one sequence; all of their consort music is one set, etc. No matter, it's an interesting mix of repertoire and certainly works as a solid introduction to early music.
One small cavil - it would have been a bit more user-friendly if there was something that identified the original album from which each selection was drawn but there is only so much space in liner notes. Perhaps the somewhat cute at all costs liner notes could have been trimmed some? Rest assured though, musically this is a top-notch package. The performances are all outstanding and there is plenty of music on the two discs. Perhaps not the set for a detailed exploration of a particular genre, but it is ideal if you want to enjoy Medieval Times in your living room. Wait a minute; there were no CDs in Medieval Times.Get this one anyway!
Posted October 1, 2010
This is a 2-CD set of works composed by "Anonymous." The Naxos sleeve-notes humorously tell us that Anonymous was "The ultimate no-name composer [who] was, ironically, the most prolific, versatile, and long-lived [that] the world has ever not known." Sadly, this raises a key point about this CD set: Naxos's notes, usually excellent, leave listeners in the dark about who the performers are and upon what instruments they are playing. In unusual CDs like these, surely all but the most casual of listeners will want to know the names of the instruments, which sound highly unusual.
Vice their customary booklet, Naxos includes only a folded sheet of paper, of which half expounds, at great length, on the contributions over the centuries of many composers, both male and female, whose names remained undocumented. Of the remaining space, 1/4 is taken up with a blurry photograph of an unidentified building and Anonymous (the name of the CD set), while 3/4 is taken up with photos of previously issued Naxos CDs.
I therefore chose to do some research on a few of the more unusual songs. "Düdül" (CD 2, track 1), a traditional Turkish melody, was previously issued on 8.554064. "Jálla man" (CD 2, track 3) and "Keh Moshe" (CD 2, track 13) were previously issued on 8.557637. Several tracks were previously issued on 8.553617 ("Sephardic Romances"). Some of the Flemish dances were previously issued on 8.554425 ("At the Sign of the Crumhorn"). All of these CDs have helpful program notes about the music and the period instruments. I feel strongly that Naxos should have made an effort to include more information with this 2-CD set. One title is given incorrectly as "Den, hoboecken dans"; it is written correctly as "Den hoboecken dans" on CD 8.554425. I did not track down the other songs on this 2-CD set, but it would not surprise me to find that all of them were taken from previously issued Naxos CDs.
The CDs contain a remarkably wide range of songs, composed over a wide time-span, that have obviously been gathered from many different countries. I could say something about every track, but then this critique would be 6 pages long. To my ear, the performances and recorded sound are both excellent.
Summary: an enjoyable 2-CD set marred only by lack of informative program notes.
Naxos db 8.578044-45
Posted February 7, 2010
No text was provided for this review.