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Provence mystique: Sacred songs of the Middle Ages
Audi tellus [1:30]

Clara sonent organa [3:44]
Pierre Espanhol/Gaucelm Faidit (12th century)
Ar levatz sus, francha corteza gens! [5:14]
ANONYMOUS (13th century)
Tantost com fon al loc vengutz [1:27] Venantius FORTUNATUS (d.609?)/Gregorian Chant
Vexilla regis [0:40]
Peire CARDENAL (c.1180-c.1278)/Jaufré RUDEL (c.1125-c.1148)
Del quatre caps que la cros [7:32] ANONYMOUS
Verbum patris humanatur [2:53]
Guilhem FIGUEIRA (c.1215-c.1240)/Piere VIDAL (fl.1180-1205)
D’un sirventes far [6:49]
Peire CARDENAL (c.1180-c.1278)/attrib. Alfonso el Sabio (1221-1284)
Una ciutatz fo [10:38]
ANONYMOUS (13th century)
Dona, Maire del salvador [0:59] ANONYMOUS
Flore vernans gratie [1:39]
attrib. Alfonso EL SABIO (1221-1284)
En bon ponto [8:29]

Gregor pastor Tityrus [4:06]
Anne Azéma (soprano); Laurence Brisset; Annelies Coene; Catherine Jousselin; Pasquale Mourey (voices); Kit Higginson (recorder; psaltery); Shira Kammen (medieval fiddle); Margriet Tindemans (medieval fiddle; harp)
rec. 11-18 July 1998, Abbaye de Gellone, Saint-Guilhem-le-Déser, France
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 2564 62759-2 [56:03]

Not for the first time, I am wholly grateful to Warner Classics for the reissue of one of Anne Azéma’s fascinating series of medieval vocal recordings; recordings characterised by their imagination, colour and scholarship, as well as by the quality and power of her singing (see review of another release by her).
Imagination is an important virtue as far as this particular programme goes, since it pieces together texts and music from a variety of sources, combining them in ways that may well be entirely new. The period represented is the late eleventh century to the thirteenth century, essentially the period of the so-called Twelfth Century Renaissance. In Southern France, in the region of Proenza, or Provence to give it its modern name, this was a period of high originality and achievement in poetry and music alike. Though we are most familiar with the secular love poetry of the troubadours, many of the minstrel-troubadours, perhaps most of them, also included sacred songs in their repertoire.
A period of evangelical activity, some of these religious songs – all for use outside the liturgy – served the purposes of the new religious orders, while others may perhaps have been associated with the Cathars. Out of the often incomplete surviving materials, a persuasive and beautiful programme of such music has been put together with informed inventiveness and recorded on this CD.
In her booklet notes Anne Azéma quotes from a poem by one troubadour, Pierre de Corbiac: “I know a great many stories: the story of Merlin, of the death of King Arthur, of Tristan and Isolde, the great lovers. My Lords, I also know how to sing well in the service of the Holy Church ... The Lord God allows me to accomplish many things that will earn me salvation at the Day of Judgement” and explains that she and her colleagues have devised their own instrumental performance material, “basing it on pre-existent vocal sources, and drawing on medieval learning methods (embracing such aspects as performance from memory, improvisation, knowledge of rhetoric)”.
The results are fascinating and often very beautiful. In mood and attitude the range is considerable: there is fierce criticism of earthly corruption and tyranny, celebration of the birth of Christ and the new dawn promised by the incarnation; there is empathetic meditation on the sufferings of the crucified Christ and radiant praise of the Virgin Mary; there are narratives of miracles, lyrics of both fear and happiness.
Anne Azéma’s voice is an instrument with a considerable range – it can be earthy or ‘pure’, declamatory or intimate, gentle or powerful. But she never seems to be at pains to ‘display’ her voice, rather to put it at the service of material she obviously treasures. Her love for what she is singing is always evident, her voice always retains  a strikingly natural quality, and the details of her performance always conditioned by an overriding determination to communicate the meaning of the text.
Azéma is well supported by a skilled team of vocalists and, above all, by the instrumental work of Shira Kammen and others. Kammen and Azéma work together particularly well, in, for example, ‘D’un sirventes far’, a polemic on the iniquities of Rome, where voice and fiddle intertwine in patterns of rich expressiveness. Throughout the mixture of shorter and longer tracks, and the constant variation of musical forces employed on different items guarantee a constantly changing experience for the listener.
Full texts and translations are included.

Glyn Pursglove




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