Familiar Composers in a New Light

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"THE SECOND CIRCLE Love Songs of Francesco Landini" Anonymous 4 Harmonia Mundi

In the second circle of Dante's hell, sinful lovers are tossed about by dark tempests. Not, presumably, to anything as elegantly measured as Anonymous 4's singing of ballate --two-and three-part secular songs--by Francesco Landini, the leading Italian musician of the 14th century. Some of the songs have the gentle tread of stylized dance, others are contrapuntal flights of fancy. All are acutely expressive, though within a rather confined range.

The acclaimed quartet of female singers gives Landini the benefit of absolute purity of tone and texture, and supple rhythmic grace. Whether a more active interpretation might be appropriate or desirable is debatable, but the unvarying sound cumulatively risks a placid gloss.

Landini's contemporaries would hardly have listened to an unbroken hour of ballate --only one, the exceptionally intense "Muort oramai," over five minutes--quite as we do, but Anonymous 4 has shaped an eloquent, rounded program from 17 of his exquisite miniatures.

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