LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Codex las Huelgas
CATALOGUE NO: 77238-2 DDD
This is the second disc in Sequential three-part series of medieval Spanish music, Vox Iberica. The music for this recording comes from a manuscript compiled around 1300 in the Cistercian convent Las Huelgas in Burgos. The manuscript contains nearly 200 items, ranging from monody to four-part polyphony, which reflect the musical life of the convent from the mid-12th century onwards.
Many of the pieces are indebted to the Notre Dame school, but others suggest a more local tradition: there are death laments for Castilian kings and, in one case, an abbess of the convent. And there are works which show the Spanish preference for music devoted to the Virgin Mary. Removing this music from its liturgical context poses immense problems, and it’s best to listen to this disc selectively, even though Sequentia offers a variety of styles and genres.
The project has clearly been carefully researched, and all the performers work from facsimiles of the original manuscript. The singing is well controlled, with suitable contrast between the plangent laments and the more lively pieces (which include a surprisingly light-hearted lesson in solmisation). Two of the most fascinating pieces are the sequence Virgo sidus aureum, an elaborate exultation of the Virgin, and the planctus Quis dabit capiti meo aquam, which has an extraordinary, dolorous melody that evokes a sound world far removed from the European tradition. Kate Bolton