The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens

The recording is housed in a handsome, finely illustrated,
hard-bound volume, admittedly jewel-case sized, but running to over 100 pages
by the time translations are included—substantial enough to suggest
this might be a book accompanied by a CD, rather than the other way around,
although it is clear that it is the musical program that has elicited the
text. More close to the mark is that “The Rose, the Lily & the
Whortleberry” is something of a well-cultivated garden itself, where
diverse elements—literary, iconographic, horticultural, and
musicalóblossom into a satisfyingly harmonious whole. Or, to adopt a more
explicitly musical metaphor, the production offers a fantasia on gardens in
the pre-modern world.

The diversity of the anthology is impressive. Although thematically
unified around horticultural images, the music ranges over a
three-hundred-year span from c. 1250 to the 1560’s and represents six
national styles; the musical texts themselves move between the suffering
pangs of amour courtois, the spiritual eroticism of the Song of
, and more earthly forms of conjugal pleasure. Additionally, the
book presents short essays by various authors on the history and literary
sources of the medieval garden, a modern evocation of the medieval garden,
and extensive program notes on the music, published with handsome
reproductions of period iconography and photographs of historic gardens.
Interestingly, the recording and book are suggestive of the ways in which
music was heard, not in isolation, but always in a context, and it further
reminds us that gardens were not only images in musical texts, but also
sensory-rich sites for music making. Our modern propensity for i-Pods and the
like gives music a mobility that opens it to seemingly limitless numbers of
potential contexts, but at the same time, mediated through the personal
headset, the music and the hearer are both artificially isolated from
surroundings. By contrast, it is the rich interaction of surroundings and
music that the Orlando Consort so splendidly evokes and celebrates here.

The singing of the Orlando Consort is highly accomplished, characterized
by both naturalness and flair. The ensemble sound is full and free in tone,
vibrant and resonant, though with a tight focus. The fullness of sound can
leave one wanting a taste of simpler, clearer timbres from time to time, but
the characteristic exuberance is easy to appreciate.

One of the difficulties of anthology programs is making sufficient
stylistic distinction between pieces, and admittedly, there is a strong
degree of similarity in the Consort’s approach to the different works
here. The use of period vernacular and geographically inflected Latin
pronunciations adds a measure of distinction, certainly, but one wonders if
the musical palette itself might have also been more varied. In the end,
however, these are compelling and highly committed performances. In context
of a so well conceived and richly produced program, it is an offering you
will want for either your bookshelf or your CD cabinet . . . or perhaps even

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens
product_title=The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens
product_by=The Orlando Consort
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMU 907398 [CD]