Collection: The Saracen and the Dove

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

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

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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.

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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