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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Insula Feminarum: Résonances mediévales de la Féminité Celte
Songs and dances from the 12th to the 15th Centuries
La Reverdie: Claudia Caffagni; Livia Caffagni; Elisabetta de Mircovich; Ella de Mircovich; Doron David Sherwin; Claudia Pasetto.
Recorded at the Abbey de Rosazzo (Undine Italy) March 1997
ARCANA A311 [64.15]
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La Reverdie has made CDs for Arcana on and off for a number of years. Also of note from this label is ‘Susi in Italia Bella’ recorded in 1995 (A38) and ‘The Life of St. Edmund’ a liturgical music drama recorded in 1996 (A43).

In my view this CD is the best up to this point.

There are 18 tracks divided into three sections, each section headed and with a quotation; for instance ‘Banflaith’ heads the second section. This is an Irish term which has a double meaning of royal and mythical and includes the extraordinary 12th Century Orkney song in honour of St. Magnus ‘Nobilis humilis’ which, uniquely, moves in parallel thirds.

The booklet, which runs to over 40 pages, has an interesting essay by Ella De Mircovich. Incidentally, just a word of warning, this took me almost thirty minutes to read and grasp and in the end I still felt unsure of the focus of the disc. Nevertheless she makes a number of fascinating points. Eventually I realized that seeing womanhood through Celtic eyes is the meaning behind the music selected and also through the work of courtly poets and writers like Chrétien de Troyes. Not only is this all very admirable, but as early as track 2, the elaborate and virtuosic instrumental rendering of ‘Tir na mBan’, we find the versatile Ella playing the vielle along with her sister Elisabetta and Claudia Pasetto. On the next track ‘Se Geniève, Tristan’ she is in magnificently fluid voice in this very complex and lengthy late 14th Century rondeau. Her achievement in this CD is quite breathtaking. But then so is that of the rest of the group. ‘Lamento di Tristano’ and ‘La Rotta’ (track 3), which follows, have been often recorded. Here these dances are used as showpieces for all five of the musicians, beginning with the harp introduction played by the ubiquitous Ella Mircovich and added to that the melody on the vielle played again by Claudia Pasetto. Claudia Caffagni adds lute flourishes and she can also be heard as a singer in the later motet ‘S’on me regarde/Prenes I garde/ He mi enfant’ which has also been often recorded.

‘La Reverdie’ take the opportunity in ‘La Rotta’ of having what used to be called ‘a jam session’, a most infectious use of percussion, vielles, harp glissandi and the flute à bec, plus hand clapping. The percussion is played by Doron David Sherwin who is credited with the remarkable ‘variations instrumentales’ on the istampita melody ‘Tre Fontane’ (which lasts over 8 minutes) and an odd piece by one Frankes (c.1400) called ‘Quene Note’.

It’s good to see the ‘organiser’ of these instrumental works credited. We know that on most recordings of medieval music someone does it but rarely are they ever credited. There is a sense of ‘orchestration’ about what he has done, but most enjoyable it is. I just query the use of the cornetto, which he plays himself. Is this really a 14th Century instrument?

The CD packaging really makes this purchase into a luxury item. The front has an illustration from the ‘Book of Kells’; a Celtic Bible of course. Open the set out and there is, to the left, a manuscript illustration of Lancelot and Genièvre in a rocky glade, in the centre fold is the Round Table from a Winchester illumination and to the right, from Vannes Cathedral, an earlier Tristan and Isolde with Tristan appropriately playing a vielle. On the back is a photograph of the five members of ‘La Reverdie’ in costume and on the back of the booklet a 15th Century illumination of Tristan and Isolde as they travel from Ireland to Cornwall on their ill-fated voyage. In the centre-fold of the booklet there is a photo of the Abbey at Rosazzo in Italy where the recording was made. It is all a sheer delight to handle. The booklet has the original text and after it, translations into German, Italian and English, so you need to keep fingers in all pages to fully grasp what is going on.

A very enjoyable and well-produced disc by a very fine group of musicians, which will give much pleasure.

Gary Higginson
 
 


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