Collection: Bestiario de Cristo

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Alia Musica,Miguel Sanchez
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: 13th-century Spanish music
PERFORMER: Alia Musica/Miguel Sánchez
CATALOGUE NO: HMI 987033

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Spain was an important centre of early polyphony, and also of manuscript decoration and the interpretation of theological symbols. All three are brought together in this illustrated, ingenious collection of 13th-century motets and sacred Latin solo songs (conductus settings), which have texts meditating on the ‘beasts of the bible’ – the eagle (St John), ox (St Luke), lion (St Mark), lamb (Christ), and so on. In fact the booklet spends so much time getting us up-to-speed on religious zoology that it forgets to say anything much about the music. This is a pity since there are some mysteriously lovely pieces here.

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‘Columbe simplicitas’, for example, on the dove as a symbol of virtue, is beautifully sung by four female vocalists, with gentle, fluttering displays of decoration. The significance of Christ’s self-sacrifice, expounded through the allegory of a pelican (‘Dex est ausi’) is movingly presented by Albina Cuadrado as though not only the words mean something, but as though they mean something to her. Elsewhere the disc seems rather full of blank, sing-songy rhythms, though there are some captivating exceptions: ‘Qui sevare’ is a truly interesting little gem, and (lest we forget the zoology) ‘Splendidus regis’ soars like an eagle. Anthony Pryer