AGRICOLA: Chansons; FITCH: Agricologies — Michael Chance, countertenor/ Fretwork – Harmonia mundi

by | Jan 29, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

AGRICOLA: Chansons; FITCH: Agricologies — Michael Chance, countertenor/ Fretwork – Harmonia mundi HMU 907421, 75:12 ***(*):

Alexander Agricola (c. 1456–1506) enjoyed the attention of most of Europe during his heyday, and by his death his music was known everywhere. Not a lot is known of his life, except that he arrived in the illustrious French court sometime shortly after 1476 where the notable Johannes Ockeghem led the musical forces of the day. Agricola left that post rather suddenly and without permission, and had several princes vying for his services, albeit grudgingly, as those types of intrigues are things that princes were not supposed to be engaged in. He ended up in Duke Philip’s court chapel (where he began) and died when the court was traveling to Spain.

His originality has often come into question as many of his compositions, like these, are based on the song material of other composers. So we have polyphonic, instrumental versions of material from composers like Binchois, Ghizeghem, Busnois, and of course, Ockeghem. Agricola engages some fairly complex writing in his presentations of these songs, and is ever the jokester, often using strange pedal notes, or ending on out-of-key cadences. Four of the works on this disc are actually sung by countertenor Michael Chance, who narrates the poems well in a very plaintive and ascetic manner, in true Gallic style (or Burgundian, in this case). But most of Agricola’s interest lies in the non-vocal material.

Fabrice Fitch also has composed two pieces of material for this disc based on Agricola’s sometimes unusual melodic style. Amazingly enough, he seems to have duplicated Agricola’s style to a tee, and if you listen to this disc without reading the liner notes I doubt whether you could tell the Fitch pieces apart from Agricola’s.

The recording is very clean and clear, warm, and lightly focused. Agricola had an enviable reputation in his day, one that has become tarnished over the years, and perhaps with good reason, as he does not deserve the company of the greatest masters of that era. Nonetheless, one album of his music should grace every serious collection, and either this one or the Naxos album of chansons (Ensemble Unicorn) should serve nicely. But don’t expect it to be Ockeghem…

— Steven Ritter

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