Collection: The Saracen and the Dove

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous,Caserta,Ciconia,Padova
WORKS: Music from the courts of Padua and Pavia c1400
PERFORMER: Orlando Consort
CATALOGUE NO: 459 620-2


The title refers to the heraldic symbols of two 14th century Italian city-states, Padua and Pavia. They were tiny, but their princes strutted on a European stage. And they vied with each other, not just on the battle-field, but in the splendour of their courts. This disc has vocal music by four composers associated with each court during the late 14th century, when music developed a rhythmic complication unparalleled before the post-war avant-garde.

That, combined with the complexity of the texts – often there are two at once, full of heraldic and allegorical symbolism – made me think I was in for a tough listen. In fact I was entranced by the arresting strangeness of the harmony, the beautifully intricate weave of the four voices, and the sheer oddity of the rhythms. It’s a tribute to the marvellously characterised performances by the Orlando Consort that these eccentricities seem enticing rather than merely odd.


On the level of sheer sound this is one of the most seductive discs I’ve heard in ages – the four voices are perfectly blended yet clearly audible, and bathed in a resonance that suggests some Gothic monastery. The whole production – disc, sleeve-notes, and illustrations – bring vividly before the mind’s eye an extraordinary vanished civilisation. Ivan Hewett