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Em Marshall
MusicWeb International, April 2007

Adam de la Halle was a thirteenth century trouvère from Northern France, a composer and a poet, who travelled widely and moved in courtly circles. He wrote both words and music for his drama Le Jeu de Robin, and, as such, it is one of the earliest extant examples of a secular play set to music.

Not much survives of the original play - mostly spoken texts with some unaccompanied melodies. This reconstruction is an attempt to make the recording as authentic as possible through the combination of the existing texts of the play along with plainchant, motets and rondeaux of the period. These components might have formed part of such an entertainment and, in any case, would have been common sounds to de la Halle’s audience. Cleverly, this includes the text spoken in the original French dialect, which is to be heard on the left speaker, while the songs (in French) and English dialogue emerges from your right. This is an interesting method which works extremely well; much fun to be had playing with balances! The whole result is one of spontaneity and improvised freedom, which is very appropriate.

The play, about an amorous knight who makes a play for a shepherdess despite her affection for her lover, is very much based in pastoral tradition. It is full of references to bucolic life, including such aspects as peasant party games and food-related jokes. Consequently, the spirit of the whole piece is rather “silly”, but it is none the worse for this, and, as a reconstruction of a mediaeval “musical comedy”, is both entertaining and fascinating from a historical point of view.

The performances cannot be criticised – full of brilliant and often amusing characterisations, with top-quality and expressive singing from all, as I have come to expect from Tonus Peregrinus.

JF Weber
Fanfare, January 2007

Another "Robin and Marion" coming so soon after Ensemble Micrologus (28:6) is remarkable, for we now have four attempts to fill up a CD with the dramatic pastourelle that had first appeared on records three times in a bare-bones 11 to 13 minutes. On those three, Safford Cape and Joel Cohen included only the 16 songs, while Thomas Binkley supplied a thread of dialogue while omitting a few minor songs at the end. Since the original play is mostly spoken, the story line was largely lost. Guy Robert on Arion was the first to add more dialogue, three motets, and three songs. Binkley's second version on Focus was even longer by dint of a musical prelude but slightly less dialogue. Micrologus used no dialogue but prolonged the music with a lot of instrumental extensions and added six motets, five songs, and three estampies reals. Now we have the longest traversal of all, with the complete dialogue (it seems), three motets, and three songs. Like Binkley I, Robert, and Micrologus, this includes the motet on "Robin m'aime" from the Montpellier Codex, performed here three times. All these discs, of course, include the basic 16 songs. The most notable difference on this presentation is the dialogue spoken almost simultaneously, a narrator reciting the original dialect of French in the left speaker, the actors speaking colloquial English in the right speaker, with the songs spread across the center. Consequently, only the songs are printed in both languages in the booklet. (Focus printed songs and dialogue in both languages, Arion only in the original.) Clearly, these four CDs are not much alike, and the inveterate collector will learn a lot by hearing all four. This version has a hectic busyness in the way the narrator tries to squeeze his lines into the fast-paced play, but the added sound effects enhance the sense of a staged play. I must add that Robert's baritone knight fits the character better than his rivals, but Pitts's knight has the best sound effects. All four CDs are currently available, but this one has a real price advantage.

American Record Guide, October 2006

In a review of two anthologies that included excerpts from Adam de la Halle's play about Robin and Marion (Mar/Apr 2005) I expressed my wish for a DVD of the complete work. While this recording is not what I still wish for, Antony Pitts has released a new version of the complete work that presents some problems but is also quite fascinating. While the earlier truncated recordings were made only in the original Old French [starting with Binkley's very truncated version from 1966, rereleased on Teldec 21709; see also May/June 1992 & Mar/Apr 1994), this recording is an exercise in right and left brain discrimination. Centered in the mix are the original songs in their original language. In the left channel John Crook presents the full text of Adam's playas a dramatic narration in Old French, and alternating with the original in the right channel is a modern English adapta­tion by Rosemary and Antony Pitts. While this may at first sound a bit like a Berlitz language tape for Old French, I found that I became involved directly in the story through the Eng­lish version but was also trying to hear and learn the subtleties of Adam's original words-and the distinction between the two on this recording is more than linguistic. The Old French narrator is miked closely, almost as if it were an audio book recording, while the English dramatic version is more distant, as if the players were on a stage acting out this sometimes rather funny mini-drama. While the notes say it is possible to adjust the balance in favor of one language or the other (the songs are common to both), 1 found on various machines that I could never entirely fade out the other side-there were always a few linguistic "ghosts" around. As inventive as this solution is for the pre­sentation of a 13th Century French drama for a contemporary English audience. I still think current technology is not quite up to a multi­layered presentation of recorded material. My ideal would have been either two separate recordings (along the lines of the German and English versions by Ute Lemper of Cabaret Songs, Sept/Oct 1997:279 & May/June 1997: 281) or, perhaps by eliminating the extra ron­deux, motets, and the excerpt from Adam's Li Jus du Pelerin, the two versions could have fit separately on a single disc. The first solution was most likely unfeasible owing to basic eco­nomics, and the second would have been per­haps a bit too academic. Pitts has supplied a creative alterative that is reasonable and sometimes extremely funny. My only com­plaint is that texts and translations are only included for the play's songs and not for the rondeux and motets used as interludes.

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