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Richard de LEDREDE (c.1260/70-1361)
Red Book of Ossory
rec. 2019, Grouse Lodge Recording Studios, Westmeath, Ireland
HERESY 025 [61.41]

Popular myth includes the beliefs that in the Middle Ages scientists believed the world was flat, that monks debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, and that church authorities spent much of their time burning witches. The first two claims (like many well-known ‘facts’) are absolutely untrue, while the third has some confirmatory instances. Witch-burning did happen, but was a rarity – the great period for the burnings of witches was during the religious tensions of the late 16th and 17th Centuries.

Richard de Ledrede (or Ledred) is something of an exception to that generalisation. He is best known for his role in the prosecution of Dame Alice Kyteler for witchcraft, in 1324. She escaped, we know not where, but her servant, Petronilla de Meath, became the first of the relatively few to be burned in Ireland for the crime of witchcraft. Interestingly, the accusations appear to be the first anywhere to include the claim that the ‘witches’ were devil worshippers. (I am indebted to several sources, notably Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish, a splendid study by Maeve Brigid Callan).

De Ledrede was a Franciscan friar, appointed Bishop of Ossory (Kilkenny) in 1317, where he remained until his death at an advanced old age – some say he reached his century. If we are to know his character, we need to put into the balance the sixty Latin poems found in the Red Book of Ossory, from which Caitríona O’Leary has selected 13 for the present disc. These brief poems are overwhelmingly devotional, quite without the fierce character of other actions by the stern bishop. What that says about his inner life, or his spirituality,we can only guess.

Caitríona O’Leary has set her selection of poetry to music from various medieval collections from across Europe, (but not from Ireland), and across the centuries from 12th to 15th, then recast them again for the instruments of Anakronos. There are also four purely instrumental pieces, Artisson’s Dance, The Flight of Dame Alice Kyteler, Ecce Sacerdos Magnus (‘Behold the Great Priest’), and the final track, The Burning of Petronilla de Meath.
Performances are interesting. Caitríona O’Leary has a lovely, bell-like voice with clear articulation and sensitivity to the Latin text. The group as a whole see themselves as blending medieval music with jazz and contemporary classical music. The sound is quite attractive, and not to be dismissed. Francis Turrisi (percussion) is a regular member of L’Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar’s admirable ensemble, which combines scholarly research with contemporary sensibility and great virtuosity. The sound here is a bit different, and some, like me, might well prefer an accompaniment which includes stringed instruments alongside the saxophones and clarinets on display here. But this single reservation is perhaps just a personal one – not all listeners will share it – and should not to detract from a recommendation for this enjoyable collection.

Michael Wilkinson

Caitríona O’Leary (singer)
Nick Roth (saxophones)
Deirdre O’Leary (clarinets)
Francesco Turrisi (keyboards and percussion)

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