WORKS: The Life of Mary:Cantigas for the Feasts of Holy Mary & Alfonso X
PERFORMER: Monastery of the Valle de los Caïdos, Ancient Music Group/Eduardo Paniagua
CATALOGUE NO: S2K 62284
These discs are selected from ten colourful and enjoyable recordings celebrating the music of medieval Spain. Most of the works are songs (cantigas) recounting miracles of the Virgin Mary, which were collected together in the 13th century for Alfonso the Wise. More than 400 survive and, in this series, they are divided into regional stories (from Toledo, Jerez, Seville, Castile and León), tales of knights, accounts of miraculous cures, and reflections on the Virgin herself.
The ‘Knights’ disc is particularly atmospheric and ranges from the melancholy of loss in Se ome fezer to the eerie appearance of warriors from another world (evoked by a magical halo of sound) in Os que bõa. But the sense of drama (as in the ‘tournament’ song, Quena festa) can be weak. On the ‘Life of Mary’ recording, the most captivating piece is the swaying, ecstatic nativity song, Beeyto foi; the mix of voices, instruments and ornamentation here is typical of Eduardo Paniagua’s attempts to bring out the ‘Moorish’ element in this music.
(Perhaps he is related to Gregorio Paniagua who made similar recordings of some of these pieces on the Hispavox label in the Seventies?) But for real Moorish music try the intricate arabesques of the songs of Ibn Sahl, meticulously but cautiously performed by Omar Metioui. Finally, there are two discs based on manuscripts of polyphony from Madrid and Santiago de Compostela.
The Compostela recording (the ‘Codex Calixtinus’) has some very good singing, and its international contents (which include the French Congaudeant, the earliest known work for three voices) remind us that Spain was once in touch with the musical avant-garde of Europe. Anthony Pryer