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El Grial - Medieval Music and literature on the theme of the Holy Grail
Capella de Minstrers/Carlos Magraner
rec. 2018, no venue given
LICANUS CDM1845 [67.44]

The discography of Capella de Ministrers under the direction of Carlos Magraner is extraordinary; this appears to be their forty-fifth disc and they have largely concentrated on the early medieval period, but 16th Century Spain, John Dowland and Victoria are also listed. In recent times I have reviewed their ArsAntiqua disc (CDM1637), Ramon Lull (CDM1640) and Peregrination (CDM1638).

Their modus operandi is to combine a large instrumental group with a number of singers and one of the joys of their approach is that of variety and colour. Each disc has its theme for example the ‘Batalla Imperial’ (CDM 0720). These performances are not for the purists because the songs and instrumental pieces, which are equally divided on each disc, are ‘orchestrated’ and sometimes added to or even composed in a suitable style. We know that improvisation was the main way that early medieval secular music was heard and we have a good idea of the instruments available so Capella de Ministrers feel that they have a carte blanche to perform this music with freedom and imagination.

For this new disc the group is reduced. Singer Maria Jonas who is happily described as a trobaritz also plays the ‘symphony’ the remaining five performers add vielles, flutes, harp, cornamuse and percussion to name just a few. The decision to have just one singer is, I feel, regrettable. Not just because Maria Jonas’ voice may not suit all listeners but because many of the songs are written from the point of view of a man addressing his lady or the song of a rather macho crusader. As, for example. in ‘Ah! Amours’ by the crusader and trouvère Conon de Bethune [d.1219] we have “… you know that the world’s most perfect woman will be foremost in my thoughts….”. Also in ‘Palestina’ by Walter von der Vogelweide [d.1230] we hear ‘… what about my wife, I won’t leave her even in the company of friends”.

On the other hand, the wonderful ‘Chanterai por mon coraige’ by another trouvère Guiot de Dijon [d.c.1225] is written from the view of a lady deserted at home by her crusader husband who is not only fighting the Saracens but who is also on a pilgrimage (to the Holy Land); she worries, declaring that … “I don’t want to find another husband to marry” if he fails to return.

The crusades and the quest for the Grail as seen through the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are inseparable especially during the 12th and 13th Centuries. A number of writers based stories around the search for the Grail, which becomes the chalice used by Christ at the Last supper. During the process of the quest the famous characters Tristan and Percival, for example, make their appearance with consequent tragedy and ecstasy. There is an interesting essay The Quest for the Grail by Amadeo Sera Desfilis and the concept of the disc is summed up with the remark “…the quest for the grail was also identified with the recovery of the Holy Land”.

Magraner divides the nineteen tracks into five sections headed by a writer of the period beginning with Chrétien de Troyes (whose stories are easily available in a Penguin Classics edition) and including the more obscure Robert de Boron telling the story through words and music. In his extensive notes, Magraner makes out a case for each piece in the context of the overall vision of the disc. He says, “this is a programme that sets a legend to music”. I have to say that it seems to me on this disc, as on the others I have heard, that he tends to hang together a sometimes random set of pieces (some of which have been recorded many times) on a rather thin pretext. Hildegard of Bingen (d, 1179) makes an appearance on the grounds that “both the authoress and Wolfram von Eschenbach….shared the same Germanic mysticism”, that’s a bit feeble – as so did others I think.

Magraner has moved around most of Europe in planning this collection with a variety of carefully listed manuscript sources like the Spanish Los set gotxs from the ‘Llibre Vermell’ of pilgrim songs and the Estampies from the French ‘Manuscript du Roi’

If you like your medieval music colourful and various then this disc and others by the group will offer ‘hours of family fun’. All texts are provided and well translated in a cardboard case and illustrated cover with the booklet attached.

Gary Higginson    

El cuento del Grial. Chrétien de Troyes (c.1150-c.1183)
1.Persavaus. Atressi con Persavaus. Rigaud de Berbezilh
2. Blancaflor. Danse & estampie. Manuscrit du Roi (Inst.)
3. La guerra.  Ahi!, Amours. Conon de Béthune
4. Tristán. Lamento di Tristano. London Ms.(Inst.)
El Rey Arturo y la gran historia del Grial. Robert de Boron (c.1190-1210)
5. Perceval. D’Amors (Lamento de Perceval). Chrétien de Troyes
6. Merlín. Harley. London Manuscript (Inst.)
7. La Cuarta cruzada. Seigneurs, sachiez qui. Thibault de Champagne
8. Palestina. Palästinalied. Walther von der Vogelweide Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220)
De Perceval a Parzival
 9. San Miguel el Alto. Cantiga de Toledo. CSM 212/12 (Inst.)
10. Tristan e Isolda. Ich lobe ein wip. Der Tanhuser
11. Lapis exilis. Meie, din liechter schin. Neidhart von Reuental
El significado del Grial. Hélinand de Froidmont (c.1160-1230)
12. Lanzarote y Ginebra. Estampie Royal. Le Manuscrit du Roi (Inst.)
13. La búsqueda del Santo Grial. Diu maget trurec. Wolfram von Eschenbach
14. La muerte de Arturo. Chanterai por mon coraige. Guiot de Dijon
15. Pantocrátor. Dregz de natura. Matfré Ermengau (Inst.)
16. Chronicon. Karitas habundat. Hildegard von Bingen
Virtut apurar no’m fretura sola. La Corona de Aragón (c.1123-1458)
17. Lilzáhira. Los set gotxs recomptarem. Llibre Vermell
18. Tirant lo Blanch. Ung lanceman a tout. Montecasino (Inst.)
19. El Siti Perillós. Sola vos (Contrafacta). Cancionero de Estúñiga

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