This beautifully packaged multi-lingual book-with-CD
is offered as a tribute to Ausiàs March. Born in the late 14th
century, probably between 1397 and 1400, he was the son of the
treasurer of the Duke of Gandia, from whom he inherited a fortune
sufficient to enable him lead a life of leisure and to pursue
his love of poetry. Though claimed in some quarters as the greatest
European poet of the 15th century, most of his work, written in
Catalan, is clearly influenced by Petrarch.
It’s slightly disappointing that his most original work, the Cant espirituel
(see article by Robert Archer, Medium Ævum
, 22 March, 1993) is not included here, though it is quoted in the notes. Five settings of his poetry are included, set to music by Catalan composer Joan Brudieu over a century after they were written. The rest of the music, taken from 15th
-century songbooks, is designed to place March within his time. Very little of it is available in other recordings.
The enterprising nature of the programme and its execution is reminiscent of Jordi Savall’s Alia Vox recordings with La Capella Reial de Catalunya and/or Hespèrion XX and XXI; in fact, when I saw the book, I thought that it was one of their recent productions, which have been presented in a similar de luxe
format. Actually, the Licanus book turns out to be less comprehensive than it first seems, since it is written in Catalan, Spanish, French and English.
Though you wouldn’t mistake the solo singers here for Señora Savall, alias Montserrat Figueras, the style and quality of the performance on this Licanus recording is worthy to be compared with those Savall recordings. The nearest thing in the Alia Vox catalogue is a 2-CD set entitled Alfons V El Magnanimo: Sacred and Secular Music from the Cancionero Montecassino
(A9816A/B); the Montecassino song-book from which the music there is taken is one of the source books for the programme on the Licanus CD. Kirk McElhearn described the Alia Vox recording as ‘another refreshing glimpse of the musical past, recorded beautifully’ – see review
. I haven’t heard it, and unfortunately it isn’t one of the Alia Vox recordings which can be downloaded from passionato at the time of writing, but a glance at the title listings suggests that there is very little overlap between the two recordings, apart from the almost inevitable basse danse
, La Spagna
The Capella de Ministers (the Catalan word for minstrels) is an accomplished group; they have made several fine recordings for the Licanus label, including the Lamento di Tristan – Songs and Dances from the Medieval Period
(CDM0307) which I recommended in my May 2020 Download Roundup – here
– and Borgia: Music from the Time of Pope Alexander VI
(CDM0616), both of which may be downloaded from passionato.com in good mp3 sound. A warning that the download of the opening track of Lamento di Tristan
is afflicted by pops and dropouts went missing from my review in May. Mea culpa
. The rest of the programme is fine.
The style of performance of the Capella de Ministrers tends to be of the bright and cheerful variety, with forthright singing and plenty of instrumental accompaniment. Fans of David Munrow’s recordings with his Early Music Consort will react to it more favourably than those who prefer the more restrained style of Gothic Voices. The recording, too, is forthright, but that suits the music and the style of performance.
For all the care which has clearly gone into the production of the very attractive book, the English translations leave something to be desired: the idiom employed doesn’t always ring true and there are occasional downright mistranslations – Martin le Franc’s description of Joan Voisard (alias
Verdelet) as nagueres trespassé
, does not mean ‘recently trespassed’, as translated on page 81, but ‘who died recently’. The notes are, nevertheless, very valuable. The original texts, in Catalan, Italian, Provençal and Spanish, are given in the booklet, mainly with poetic, rather than literal English translations.
Unfortunately, there is not much information on Licanus’s website about their recordings, even if you can overcome the problem that it’s all in Catalan. You will find some information about their catalogue in the booklet of the current recording.
You can be sure that I shall be returning to this fascinating CD. It won’t be quite to all tastes, so I shun the temptation to make it my Recording of the Month, but I think there will be few who can resist its charms. It may well tempt you to move on to other Licanus recordings of the Capella de Ministrers – I shall certainly do so. I implied in May that the Tristan
CDs were not generally available in the UK, but I have since discovered that they and other Licanus recordings are available from Crotchet. Be aware, however, that their description of the music on the current CD as ‘typically Moorish’ is somewhat misleading.