Jeanne d’Arc: Batailles & Prisons

COMPOSERS: Savall; Dufay
LABELS: Alia Vox
ALBUM TITLE: Jeanne d’Arc: Batailles & Prisons
WORKS: Savall (after Dufay): Ballade de la Pucelle; L’appel, Le départ, Les voix; Ce jour de l’an; Ballade; etc; Dufay: Les Voix; Veni Sancte Spiritus; etc
PERFORMER: Monstserrat Figueras (soprano), Maria Christina Kiehr (soprano), Kai Wessel (countertenor); La Capella Reial de catalunya


2012 was the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc, scourge of the English in the Hundred Years War, and saviour of France. Already there has been a reissue of Verdi’s early opera on the subject (Giovanna d’Arco) and the Ensemble Amadis has produced a ‘music in the time of …’ disc on the Jade label. This offering by Jordi Savall, though, is far more ambitious and sumptuous. It consists of a 500 page-booklet in six languages, lavishly illustrated, with extensive essays and translations of all the spoken and sung texts. The recording gives us a spoken narrative of Joan’s life interspersed with ‘atmospheric’ snippets of music either from the 15th century or composed especially to accompany the described events.

The newly composed fanfare and battle pieces work well for the coronation scene and elsewhere, and we should perhaps gloss over the fact that Joan herself is unlikely to have heard any of the medieval music performed here. Sometimes the performances strain a little too hard to be ‘atmospheric’: Dufay’s Veni Sancte Spiritus is so slow that it loses all shape, and the attempt at the Sanctus from Dufay’s Missa L’homme armé is lumbering. On the other hand the plainsong items chanted by the Capella Reial de Catalunya are magical. In the end we must remember that this presentation has been fashioned by Savall as a piece of music theatre, and as a vivid attempt to commemorate Joan’s life it is unlikely to be bettered.


Anthony Pryer