My first surprise on receiving this CD for review was to find a programme of late-medieval and renaissance Spanish music emanating from a label which specialises in Polish music: the three volumes of early Polish keyboard works advertised in the booklet are more the kind of thing that I had expected. You can find a list of Acte Préalable recordings and, where they exist, links to Musicweb reviews of them here
My second surprise was to receive for review now a CD which was first issued in 2004: I really haven’t been sitting on this review that long! In most respects, however, I have to agree that it was worth the wait.
There is no exactly comparable programme of this music, so I can’t offer any detailed comparison, other than to note that Montserrat Figuerras and Jordi Savall offer a number of similar CDs on their own Alia Vox label and that Naxos have a recording with Shirley Rumsey singing and accompanying herself on the renaissance guitar, Music of the Spanish Renaissance
(8.550614). There is no overlap with the Naxos CD: you may regard that as a safer and less expensive way to dip your toe into this repertoire or as a next step if you like the Acte Préalable CD, as I believe that you will.
Anna Jagielska has a pleasant voice. She’s not quite as distinctive as Figueras or Rumsey – less powerful than either – and it takes her a few tracks to settle into the music, or for my ears to become accustomed to her style. From about track 4 onwards I really began to enjoy her singing. What her voice lacks in force, she makes up for with the yearning quality of her singing, in which respect she is not far behind Figueras. Try Ondas do mar de Vigo
(track 7) for an example of what I mean.
She is well accompanied throughout by Marek Toporowski, who does his best to make his three harpsichords sound like the guitar or its relatives and predecessors which you might have expected in this repertoire. The notes acknowledge that the harpsichord would have been a novel instrument at the time when this music was composed. I think it would have been preferable to have used a renaissance guitar, as Rumsey does on Naxos, vihuela or lute for some of the pieces. 77 minutes of soprano and harpsichord is somewhat tiring, even when three different instruments are employed, especially as I understand that Jagielska is an accomplished guitarist – surely she could have accompanied herself in, say, the Sephardic songs.
The chosen repertoire is varied, though the music is mostly of a melancholy nature. The notes in the booklet take as motto for the whole collection the words of a sixteenth-century song: ‘There is no love without suffering, or pain so cruel as that experienced in love’. I would have welcomed a little greater variety of mood. Most of the pieces are unfamiliar, apart from the inevitable Dindirindin
There is a predominance of the music of the Sephardic Jews, whose ladino
music continued to be performed long after their expulsion from Spain alongside the Moors in 1492. Until the completion of the reconquista
they had been equal members of Spanish society, though there is a hint of discrimination in some of these songs, for example in the familiar Morena me llaman
(tr.6), where the girl’s dark Moorish skin is emphasised. She claims to have been born white and to have changed colour: yo blanca nací/.../mi color perdí
. After 1492 even those who converted to Christianity, the conversos
, were frequently the objects of discrimination and subject to the attentions of the Inquisition. Las morillas de Jaén
(tr.16) are conversos
: Cristianas qui éramos moras en Jaén
– we’re Christian girls from Jaén who used to be Moors.
I’m not sure how many of the songs from the collection made by the poet Lorca, Cancioneras antiguas
, have received editorial treatment, but Los pelegrintos
(tr.15) sounds to me as if it has received some such attention. Lorca himself seems to have written the words of La monja gitana
(tr.14) to the accompaniment of a traditional tune.
It may not be too difficult to record a single voice and accompaniment, though it isn’t always easy to get the right balance between the two, especially when three instruments are used, but the recording balance here is good.
The booklet contains the texts but there are no translations, which is a serious problem when so many languages are involved: not just medieval Spanish but Catalan, Gallego and French. Some of the texts are difficult even for Spanish speakers: the morillas de Jaén
(tr.16) are translated by the more usual word morenas
in some versions, the three Moorish girls from Jaén who love the singer.
The multilingual notes are informative but brief, with less than a page on the music in each language. What we have is very useful, but we needed much more. The English translation is mostly idiomatic, apart from the use of ‘begun’ for ‘began’.
The title of the collection is an odd mixture of Spanish and Latin: Cantos de la España antigua
would have been more logical than ...antiqua
. The photograph of the Alhambra on the front cover is appropriate: a Moorish artefact which, like ladino
music, survived the reconquista
– to this day, in fact.
Small grumbles apart, mostly concerning the lack of documentation, I enjoyed this recording. If you already know this repertoire, I’m sure that you will, too. If you have yet to become familiar with it, you may find Shirley Rumsey on Naxos a better introduction.