Collection: Acantus

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous
LABELS: Gimell
WORKS: O virgineta bella; Verzena bendeta; Quasi cedrus
PERFORMER: Acantus
CATALOGUE NO: 462 516-2

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Not all of the devotional music surviving from the medieval period was composed in the ‘High Art’ style for performance by professional musicians. In Italy, for example, popular songs of praise (laude) played an important part in the religious life of the Franciscans and companies of flagellants, and in many lesser churches the chants of the service were adorned by improvised block chords (falsobordone) or by simple two-voice arrangements (cantus planus binatum).

This unusual and vivid recording captures and transforms these traditions: it presents ‘sacred songs of the people’ in a ‘passionate fusion of ethnic folk music and Gregorian Chant’. The laude are particularly well done: ‘O Virgineta bella’ combines a raucous, folksy vocal tone with some wonderfully beguiling vielle playing (by Fabio Tricomi), and the dialect verses of ‘Verzene benedeta’ evoke a congregational musical atmosphere.

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The two-part cantus planus works receive firm but sweet treatment from Alessandra Fiori and Gloria Moretti (the stars of this recording), who come into their own in the haunting lament by the Virgin Mary, ‘Cum autem venissem’. But, in any case, even the ensemble performances are just as good, with rich harmonies in the falsobordone ‘Salve sponsa’ and sure-footed part singing in the final, more complex ‘Adoramus te’. The most astonishing piece is ‘Quasi cedrus’ from present-day Liguria; its combination of sensuous harmony and pious hope is strangely unsettling – rather like the risqué combination of crucifix and cleavage on the cover of the disc. Anthony Pryer