Latin conductus and rondelli from 12th-14th century Swiss monasteries and libraries are performed by the Moscow based Ensemble Labyrinthus on a 2013 Raumklang release titled Carmina Helvetica.
A rondellus is a type of medieval polyphonic piece. It can generally be identified by the compositional device of “voice-exchange” where two or three musical phrases are first sung together, and then repeated by each of the other voices in alternation. Aided by its characteristic regular phrasing, the rondellus is also linked to a form of clerical dance.
Like the several other rondelli on this recording, the rondellus “Pusciolus nobis nascitur”comes from the Codex 314 of the Benedictine Engelberg Abbey, complied sometime around 1370. Lots of other wonderful pieces can be found in similar Swiss medieval manuscripts in Zurich, St. Gallen and elsewhere.
A conductus is a metrical Latin song often considered the predecessor to the 13th-century motet. Conductus usually have 2 or 3 voices. “Ovans chorus scholarium,” featured on this disc, is thought to be composed in the 12th century by Gautier de Châtillon. This two-part conductus is especially striking in the interactions of parallel fifths between the two voices.
Music from this time is primarily vocal, but instruments make their way onto Ensemble Labyrinthus’s recording to good effect. In his liner note, director of the ensemble Danil Ryabchikov references several written sources and also iconography that suggests instruments like the vielle, citole, psaltery, and others could have been used with this music, even in a church setting. Ensemble Labyrinthus includes some purely instrumental renderings on the CD, as well as examples of voices and instruments together.
Based in Moscow, and formed only in the past few years, Carmina Helvetica is this group’s debut CD. It seems that Russian ensembles dedicated to the performance of this kind of repertory are few and far between, so Ensemble Labyrinthus is a welcome addition to the early music scene.