Adam de La Halle: Le Jeu de Robin et de Marion
Baryton CDM0026. 58’22
This is re-launch and revision of a 2003 recording of the 13th century Pastourelle, ‘The Game of Robin and Marion’, telling the story of an encounter between the knight Aubert, the shepherdess Marion, and her lover Robin and his attempts to rescue her from his advances. The staged drama was written in 1284 for the Naples Court of the French Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily, shortly after the Sicilian Vespers had ousted him from Sicily itself. It was possibly intended to reflect a longing for their French homeland, but with undertones of Crusading mythology and the massacre of the French forces at Palermo. It is an early example of the genre of musical theatre.
Ensemble Micrologus had reconstructed a staging of the drama, adding motets, and instrumental rondeaux and estampies, the latter often based on the same folk melodies of many of Adam de La Halle’s songs and motets. His texts include many references to dance and to musical instruments, and a wide variety of medieval instruments are used in this recording, including the distinctive sound of the Breton pipes. The accompaniments emphasis the polyphonic and monophonic aspects, as opposed to a simpler drone and melody interpretation, leading to a rich and colourful texture representative of the Ars Antiqua and La Halle’s own experiments with early polyphonic writing.
With repertoire of this type, a great deal of decision making is needed before singing or playing a note, not least in working out the rhythmic structure of the music, written near the start of mensural notation. There are eleven performers, including four singers, and an impressive array of mediaeval instruments, ranging from straight trumpets, shawms, and bagpipes to the gentler flutes, fiddles, harps, and lutes. There is a relatively restrained use of percussion, something often overdone in this repertoire. The voices are slightly bucolic in tone, but this is certainly not out of keeping with the style of the music, and matches several of the instruments.
It is attractively packaged, with artworks of the period and photographs of a live performance.