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ALFONS V EL MAGNANIM - El Cancionero De Montecassino
Sacred and Secular Music
Sacred Music
Adoramus te (4 v.)
Ave Maris Stella (3&4 v.)
Ave Maris Stella (harp)
Dufay: Veni sancte spiritus (3 v.)
Anon. / Dufay: Miserere nostri / Vexilla Regis (4 v.)
Fantasia CM 91 (winds)
Dufay: Magnificat (4 v.)
Cornago: Patres nostri peccaverunt (4 v.) (viols)
Cum autem venissem (4 v.)
Secular Music
Chiave, chiave (toccata)
Merce te chiamo (ballatta)
La fille guillemin (ballo)
O tempo bono (strambotto)
Zappay (instrumental strambotto)
Piangendo chiamo (disperata)
Puisque vos me lasses seulete / Je ne vous amare Marioneta (double chanson)
Alle stamenge (canto carnascialesco)
Collinetto (ballo)
Amor tu non me gabasti (barzelletta)
Dufay: Je vos pri mon tres (triple chanson)
Correno multi cani (strambotto-caccia)
Ockeghem: Mort tu as navrè / Miserere pie Jhesu
Miserere pie Jesu
Mort tu as navrÈ de ton dart
Retoricque, se Dieu me gard
En sa jonesse fut soudart
La Spagna (basse dance)
Cornago / Ockeghem: Qu'es mi vida preguntais (canciûn)
Viva viva Rey Ferrando (cancion)
Hayne: De tous biens plaine (chanson)
Dindirindin (canzon alla villota)

Performers: Montserrat Figueras (soprano), Maria Cristina Kiehr (mezzo-soprano), Carlos Mena (countertenor), Kai Wessel (countertenor), Josep M. Gregori (countertenor), Jean-Yves Guerry (countertenor), Lambert Climent (tenor), Francesc Garrigosa (tenor), LluÌs VilamajÛ (tenor), Daniele Carnovich (bass), Jordi Ricart (bass, baritone), Xavier Sans (bass), Jordi Savall (viol), Sergi Casademunt (viol), Eunice Brandao (viol), Lorenz Duftschmid (viol), Sophie Watillon (viol), Philippe Pierlot (viol), Jean-Pierre Canihac (cornet), BÈtrice Delpierre (shawm), Alfredo Bernardini (shawm), Daniel Lassalle (sackbut), Stefan LegÈe (sackbut), Richard Cheetham (sackbut), Josep Borr‡s (bombarde), Andrew Lawrence-King (harp), Arianna Savall (harp), Rolf Lislevand (lute), Xavier DÌaz (lute), Michael Behringer (organ), Guido Morini (organ), Pedro Estevan (percussion)
La Capella Reial de Catalunya - Jordi Savall
Rec: November 1996, November 1997, February 1998, April 1998.
ALIA VOX 9816 A+B (2 CDs) [145.45]
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This set contains the works from a songbook discovered in the Montecassino Abbey near Naples. The Spanish king Alfonso V had conquered Naples in 1442, and this book contains music for his and his court's entertainment. This was a critical period for music in Europe, as forms and styles were gradually being transformed. The pieces in this songbook give us a unique perspective on this variety through the juxtaposition of works of many different styles.

The first CD of this two-disc set contains sacred music. With an overall atmosphere of piety, this grave music is slow, drawn-out, and its beauty becomes apparent as one listens to the subtle melodies. While one might criticize the homogeneity of the sound of the works on this CD, taken as a whole they present a vision of the world in the 15th century. Perhaps some of the music could be played in a more lively manner; but then the sound would lose its coherence.

In spite of the length of time separating us from this music, some of it has an oddly familiar sound. The first movement of the processional hymn Cum autem venissem recalls, through its fanfare-like horns, the rarely-played national anthem of some small country, heard once every four years at the Olympics. Yet the textures and repetitive structure of this amazing piece recall the contemporary works of Arvo Pärt.

Another notable piece is Guillaume Dufay's Veni sancte spiritus, a mass for 5 voices, which is sung with admirable flexibility and grace. This a cappella work is the epitome of 15th century vocal music, in its combination of melodic waves and counterpoint, with the voices flowing together to form a whole.

The second CD features secular music, various types of songs and instrumental works. Since Naples was a crossroads for European music in this time, there are a wide variety of influences present. These works, much simpler than the sacred works, include songs in French, Spanish, Italian and others. Most are anonymous, but some are by such well-known composers as Dufay and Ockeghem.

These works are more rhythmic than the sacred works, many featuring percussion, horns, and a wide variety of instruments. The crystalline voice of Montserrat Figueras rings out in songs such as Merc te chiamo and Je vos pri mon tres. As always, her pure voice is a joy to listen to. Nevertheless, even with these secular works, the prevalent atmosphere is melancholy and solemn.

Some works stand out from this atmosphere, however. The foot-tapping song Alle stamenge is so catchy I found myself playing it over and over, in spite of its banal subject matter:

This way for sieves, ladies,
This way for sieves.
Who wants a good sifting?
I am a miller
And I make good flour

If all millers had jingles like that you can be sure they did good business!

When considering this type of work, it is useful to consider questions of authenticity. Did the viol consort exist in the late 15th century? It is not so sure. Nevertheless, the short work Patres nostri peccaverunt works fine for four viols, although it sounds much more 17th century than 15th century - but this does not detract from the lush, sumptuous sound of this work. Or, did Dufay use instruments with the voices in his masses? Musicologists don't think so. Savall's choices, which make up part of his signature "sound", may be open to discussion, but the fact remains that, no matter what he plays, it sounds good. He has a way of arranging early music and adding his own touch to it that makes it unique. Having heard many of his recordings, and having heard him perform live several times, I have never been disappointed. It is useful to recall what Tess Knighton said, in the Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music (OUP, 1997): "Perhaps the crux of the issue . . . remains how to find the balance between an attractive mode of presentation . . . and the realization in sound of the concept of authenticity. [. . .] all that matters is that the recording should make the music live again, should make it move and cheer us as it did our predecessors all those centuries ago." One must admit, Jordi Savall manages this with almost every one of his recordings, and the present disc is no exception.

It should be noted that the quality of this recording is remarkable. This is definitely a disc that is best heard on headphones - each voice, each instrument stands out clearly in the mix, and the slightest subtleties can be heard. It is rare to hear a recording of this quality.

Savall, yet again, pulls another forgotten manuscript out of the past, revitalizing the music, adding his imprimatur to it to give it a distinctive sound. Some like this sound, others do not, but none can deny that it stands out as a unique expression of music from another era. This is another refreshing glimpse of the musical past, recorded beautifully.

Kirk McElhearn

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