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AVAILABILITY Musica Rediviva

Maria - Medieval Songs and Swedish Traditional Music
E.A. KARLFELDT (1866-1931)
Jungfru Maria
Sankt Göran och draken [5.43]; Shepherd’s tune [1.26]; Josef kare, Josef min [1.49]; Kritsllen den fina [2.12]; Limu, limu, lima [1.25]
Oswald Von WOLKENSTEIN (1377-1445)
Wer ist sie die da leuchet
; Ave Mater, o Maria [3.46]
Angelus ad Virginem
[1.22]; Edi beo thu [1.36]; Stond wel moder under roode [6.07]
Jacques de CAMBRAI
Retrowange novella
Rosa das Rosas; Como podem [2.59]
Leonel POWER (c.1375-1445)
Beata Progenies
Pipe Improvisation on Du adela ros [1.18] ;
ANON SPAIN 14th Century
Stella Splendens
[5.30]; Polorum Regina [4.21]
Jean GHISELIN (c.1455-1511)
O florens rosa [3.02]
Guillaume DUFAY (c.1400-1474)
Vergine Bella
C.J.L. ALMQVIST (1793-1866)
Marias häpnad
[0.41]; Den lyssnande Maria [1.17].
Helena Ek (soprano)
Göran Månsson (pipes, frame drum, string drum, hurdy-gurdy); Johannes Landgren (organ); Marie-Louise Marming (medieval fiddle); Berit Lindberg (harp)
rec. 25-27 January 2006, Hemsjo Church, near Goteborg, Sweden. DDD

Track samples available

A pleasant disc, nicely conceived and well worth searching out.

This disc is a pan-European mixture from all times and places, of music in honour of the Virgin Mary. Some songs are Swedish, but as can be seen above, not that many. Most are medieval, but not all. Each is accompanied by differing instrumental combinations and some are unaccompanied as with the first ‘Jungfrau Maria’ which has the character of a folksong although written less than one hundred years ago.
The cult of the Virgin spread throughout medieval Europe beginning at around the time of the Crusades, the men substituting the women they left behind at home, with the ones they could see. These were beautiful even sometimes erotic images in glass and fresco in churches and abbeys. The Roman Catholic Church still has a strong affection for the mother of Christ with at least seven feast days dotted throughout the year.
The booklet notes seem to be rather puzzlingly set out at first. It’s one of those cardboard case jobs with its colourful notes attached. Helena Ek opens with an explanation of what she is attempting to achieve, then we have biographical notes on the performers with photos, then the music is described either giving its background or by quoting parts of the text or by giving a sometimes rather unsatisfactory résumé of them. The whole thing is then repeated in Swedish and then Japanese. Delightful drawings and manuscript illustrations of Madonnas with child are interspersed before we get the complete texts in their original languages at the back of the booklet but without translations.
Accompanying Helena Ek are four musicians who play, to use a word that is now somewhat passé, with authenticity; certainly they show great imagination. The part played by Göran Månsson is especially enjoyable. His pipes and evocative string drum can be heard to good advantage in the French song ‘Retrowange novelle’ - cleverly adapted in honour of the Virgin from a prostitute’s street song. In her note Ek tells us how she met Månsson and persuaded him to record with the group. The choice of instruments is made to suit the country of origin and the period in which it was written. It works most effectively. Ek tackles the many languages used here with clarity and true understanding but she does not attempt to alter the colour of her voice dependent on style, period or country. This makes for a somewhat bland effect.
Mostly each piece is given its own space and works effectively. The unaccompanied poem ‘Stond wel moder under roode’ is a prayer from the foot of the cross and is set to amazingly passionate music. It is sung very movingly. Surely though, the Catalan pilgrim songs ‘Stella Splendens’ and ‘Polorum Regina’ are too slow, long and uninteresting. Just as surely Dufay’s wonderful ‘Vergine Bella’ is too fast, necessitating an unhappy tempo change for the final section.
Some items are purely instrumental. Especially attractive is the Shepherd’s Tune from Sweden played as pipe solo. Another approach is heard in the delicate Beata Progenies by one of England’s greatest medieval composers Leonel Power which is first heard instrumentally and then with the voice. It should be emphasised that all of the performances have a feeling of folksong about them, spontaneously reproduced. Spontaneity is also in evidence in the other Netherlandish piece by Ghiselin which is rhythmically quite complex. The Wolkenstein pieces are like folk-tunes in themselves and represent the rare, sacred side of his art.
The recording in a lovely church acoustic is clear and well focused with a hint of atmosphere. A final verdict: a pleasant disc, nicely conceived and well worth searching out.
Gary Higginson


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