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Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman: Lover, Poet, Patroness and Saint
Martin Codax (fl. early 13th century)

Cantigas de amigo (13th century):
Ondas do mar de vigo [3:37]
Mandad’ ei comigo [2:36]
Mia jrmana fremosa, treides comigo [2:57]
Aj deus, se sab’ora meu amigo [6:01]
Quantas sabedes amar amigo [6:11]
Eno sagrado en vigo [2:37]
Aj ondas que eu vin veer [1:34]
ANONYMOUS (13th century)

Domna, pos vos ay chausida [2:43]
ANONYMOUS (13th century)

Estampie Royal ‘No.3’ [2:46]
Richart de FOURNIVAL (1201-1260)

Onques n’amai tant que jou fui amee [6:06]
Onques n’amai tant que jou fui amee [Version 2] [1:37]
ANONYMOUS (13th century)

Estampie Royal ‘No.6’ [2:59]
Estampie Royal ‘No.4’ [2:28]
La COMTESSE DE DIE (late 12th century?)

A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria [5:24]
ANONYMOUS (13th century)

Danse Royale ‘No.2’ [3:16]
ANONYMOUS (early 14th century)

Lasse, pour quoi refusai [6:36]
Sinfonye: Mara Kriek (voice), Stevie Wishart (medieval fiddle, symphony), Andrew Lawrence-King (harps), Jim Denley (pandeiro, bendir)
rec. 16-17 September 1987, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London.
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This was the debut recording of Sinfonye and was very much admired at the time of its first issue. The reissue on Helios quotes two of its earlier reviews – ‘Surely one of the most memorable and touching recitals of the decade’ (The Independent) and ‘A fantastic record. Buy it’ (Early Music News). I have no difficulty in sharing such enthusiasm almost twenty years later. It is a CD which has stood the test of time very well. Fashions in performance style come and go – nowhere more so than in medieval music – but performances of such power as these survive all such considerations.

One of the most startling things at the time of its original issue was the performance of Mara Kiek. Australian, of Irish origins, Kiek was early fascinated by the traditions of Eastern European music as mediated by expatriate communities in Australia. At times her voice has a passionate roughness, a folk, gipsy-like quality; at others there is a greater ‘purity’ of tone; her singing is never merely ‘polite’ and can seem wild and abandoned. But she can also be gentle and tender. She – perhaps herself influenced by Jantina Noorman? – has influenced a number of later singers in this music, and has gone on to a career in what is now called world music.

The folk elements in Kiek’s singing serve perfectly Stevie Wishart’s vision of this music. Wishart’s fiddle-playing, often drone like, and her use of the symphony, are well complemented by Jim Denley’s crisply percussive work on the pandeiro (a square frame drum from Spain) and bendir (a frame drum from from Morocco, with internal snare strings). There are moments when Andrew Lawrence-King’s harp, though often very beautiful in itself, perhaps sounds a little too refined

Martin Codax’s Cantigas de amigo resurfaced in 1914, one of those occasional astonishing discoveries, found on a single leaf of parchment which had been used in the binding of a later manuscript. Codax was Spanish troubadour from Vigo. These six songs are amongst the very earliest secular Spanish songs to survive complete with their melodies. They set poems in Galician-Portuguese dialect. They have been recorded quite often and, of course, the surviving manuscript leaves so much to the judgement and discretion of the performers that there is much variety amongst these recordings. The solutions adopted here are utterly persuasive and compelling - which isn’t to say that they can’t be performed in other ways too!

Like Codax’s songs, the song by Richart de Fournival and the anonymous ‘Lasse, pour quoi refusai’ which closes the recital, express the feelings of women in poetry of some power.

The purely instrumental dances are played with a vivacity that makes it hard to sit quietly and listen to them! Wishart’s fiddle-playing is heard to particularly good effect on these tracks.

I am not sure that this reissue needs much in the way of fresh recommendation. Any devotee of this repertoire who didn’t acquire Bella Domna first time round will surely want to do so now. It belongs in every collection of medieval song.

Glyn Pursglove


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