untitled.pngOut of the blue I found in my mailbox a lovely surprise, sent by Music & Arts Programs of America, Inc.

The unexpected gift came courtesy of The Boston Camerata, whose leader, Anne Azéma has for over ten years led this one-of-a-kind ensemble as its artistic director, all the while exploring, unearthing, and deciphering ancient printed and handwritten music, transforming it into modern music notation, and bringing it to life in authentic performances of compositions from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras.

I waited until late in the evening when everything at home was quiet to listen to the two dozen miniatures that comprise Treasures of Devotion, an intriguing CD of Renaissance music.

Some as brief as 53 second in length, the substance of nearly each and every one of these some monodic, some polyphonic pieces resides in the perfect marriage of text to melody one finds in many of them and in the uncomplicated way in which the composers set forth their musical ideas.

The names of the composers featured in Treasures of Devotion range from the somewhat familiar to the obscure, though none deserving of being relegated to footnotes in a music history book. The significant Heinrich Isaac, the indispensable Alexander Agricola, the extraordinary Josquin Desprez, and the lesser known but important Jacob Clemens non Papa share the recording’s 25 tracks with the names and music of composers whom this listener encountered for the first time.

In her insightful liner notes, Anne Azéma the group’s Artistic Director sheds light on the choice of music by taking the year 1500 as its point of departure. With France and Flanders leading the musical charge and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral as its artistic fulcrum, and Europe on the verge of a veritable explosion in the arts, composer-performers craftily began to explore the secular in music after enduring centuries of restrictions from the hierarchy of the Church as to what could and could not be written and played.

Thus we get the plaintive De tous bien pleine est ma maitresse and the lovely Tant que vivray, both popular ballads that do double duty as either vocal or instrumental, fervently devotional or ardently lovesick, all simply depending on the occasion.

These are little compositions that easily passed from composer to composer in the days when the concept of author’s rights was nonexistent. The four-part Chantons Noël is another example of multiple-use music to be enjoyed as a simple carol, unfettered by the strictures of the Church. The music in this CD exits out the front gates of the church and quietly enters the privacy of the home.

The performers: Michael Barrett, Daniel Hershey, Joel Frederiksen, Andrew Arceci, Shira Kammen, Carol Lewis, Fabio Accurso, and Anne Azéma are nothing short of extraordinary. The vocalists turn on a dime and play the lute. The instrumentalists play the lute, the harp, the vieille, and the viola da gamba. Everybody in the ensemble manages to sing and or play with no trace of vibrato or portamento, the approach being direct, honest, true to historical practice, and perfectly suited to the music.

The Boston Camerata is a formidable player in the ever growing Early Music scene and we look forward to more treasures from them.

The recording was made in the Abbey Church Saint Pierre et Saint Paul in Ferrières-en-Gâtinais and it is engineered to perfection by David Griesinger and very elegantly packaged.

Treasures of Devotion (CD-1296) is available from

Rafael de Acha