Featured Album February 2024: Lux Musicae London "Vestiva"
This month, we're taking a deep dive into instrumental music from the 16th and 17th centuries with our featured album, Vestiva by Lux Musicae London. The three musicians performing on this virtuosic and intimate disc are recognised as leading exponents of their respective instruments (recorder, lute and harp). With this, their debut disc with First Hand Records, they present a varied and thoroughly informed journey through music by composers including Holborne, Palestrina, Frescobaldi and Van Eyck.
Vestiva: Embellishing 16th & 17th Century Music
Lux Musicae London
OUR FEATURED ALBUM FOR FEBRUARY 2024
From the artist's press release…
Vestiva features virtuosic diminutions and embellishments practices of the 16th and 17th centuries, both historical and brand new ones written and improvised by the performers, based on historical treatises.
The programme includes famous and hidden treasures by composers such as Cipriano de Rore, John Bennet, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Philippe Verdelot, Pieter de Vois, Orlando di Lassus and more...
Formed in 2014, Lux Musicae London is dedicated to exploring and recreating the performance practices that were developing across Europe in the 16th and early 17th centuries. With their diverse instrumentation and rhetorically-driven approach to performance, Lux Musicae London’s programmes seek to recreate music from this time while tracing the patterns of musical influences from different sources. Their unique programmes have ranged from Irish influences in John Dowland’s Denmark to the emergence of Flamenco from Moorish and Spanish music.
Lux Musicae London (L-R Aileen Henry, Mirjam-Luise Münzel, Toby Carr) recording Vestiva in Holy Trinity Church, Stroud Green, 2022.
Why The Early Music Shop loves "Vestiva":
Labelling an album with a subtitle such as “Embellishing 16th and 17th century music” could lead one to believe the enclosed music somewhat of an academic exercise. Yet exactly the opposite is true of the new album by European early music trio Lux Musicae London. Their specialism for diminutions and variations on music of the Renaissance and early Baroque forms the backbone of this delicate and carefully programmed performance.
Boldly opening with a nowhere-to-hide solo interpretation of Pieter de Vois’ Je ne puis eviter from recorder player Mirjam-Luise Münzel, the tone is set for the exploratory theme of the music throughout the album. Münzel’s embellishments are certainly impressive — though not just in the addition of division passages. This is an album of quality over quantity, and while there are plenty of flashy figures in the recorder parts, Münzel’s exquisitely controlled vibratos, alternative fingerings and phrase shaping add just as much embellishment to the overall sound.
The remainder of the trio is comprised of lutenist Toby Carr (known for his collaborations with singer Helen Charlston, amongst others) and Baroque harp specialist Aileen Henry (who has worked extensively with the English Touring Opera). The absence of keyboard instruments and bowed strings gives this ensemble a very intimate feel, where the listener is not so much grabbed by the ears, but gently welcomed into a very close listening environment. The whole album feels like an invitation to something very personal.
The fact that the recording was spurred on by a cancelled performance which was a victim of pandemic postponements, makes the passion of the performers even more evident. As Münzel explained in a recent article for The Recorder Magazine, "Everyone was devastated, the management team in tears. For our small ensemble this was one of the most emotional cancellations. So much preparation, care, excitement, and expectation – so we made the pact to record Vestiva."
The bright resonance of Henry’s harp is another huge asset for this recording and the feature of this instrument in Frescobaldi’s Toccata Nona is a virtuosic demonstration of a Baroque instrument all too rarely heard in solo contexts. Meanwhile, Carr’s lute is typically excellent, with his instinctive accompaniment proving especially valuable in this setting. The lute and harp are performed with precision and closeness, so much so that it is no surprise to learn that their players are in fact husband and wife.
Other stand-out performances on the album include the title track Vestiva i Colli by Palestrina, which appears with two different sets of diminutions by Bassano and Luito; the text with its references to "spring, breathing the sweetest perfumes and garlanded with herbs and leaves" feel very much in keeping with the character of the recording. In addition, the lute work by Carr on Orlando de Lassus' Susanne ung Jour (which also later appears with recorder divisions) warrants a mention for its captivating atmosphere. Tied together by common themes throughout the album, this programme is so well conceived and arranged that the listener barely notices when one track progresses to the next.
Packaged in an attractive plastic-free digisleeve with interesting insights in the sleeve notes, this is a thoughtful and memorable debut from a trio of musicians at the top of their game. It could well prove to be one of the stand-out instrumental releases of 2024.
Vestiva is available now from The Early Music Shop online or in our Snape Maltings showroom.
Watch the video below to hear excerpts from the album and see behind-the-scenes clips from the recording process: