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).
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.
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.
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)”.
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.
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.
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.
texts and translations are included.