LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: Le royaume oublié; La croisade contre les Albigeois; La tragédie Cathare
PERFORMER: Montserrat Figueras (singer); La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Hespèrion XXI/Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AVSA9873 A/C (hybrid CD/SACD)
The forgotten kingdom of the title, which geographically corresponded with the modern French Midi, was a realm of the mind as well as a physical landscape. Until Innocent III launched a crusade against the Cathar/Albigenisan heretics, Occitania was a place where many traditions and faiths could co-exist and fruitfully interact. It absorbed influences from Al-Andalus and Byzantium, preserved Latinate culture, and boasted its own tongue – the langue d’oc of the troubadours – which would eventually be supplanted by the Northern French langue d’oil.
The three-disc album follows the story of the Cathars from mid-tenth-century origins to their persecution, dispersal and ultimate destruction, and concludes in the late 15th-century. As is customary with Jordi Savall’s projects, the album presents vivid theatre for the ear, incorporating recited texts as well as instrumental and vocal music, succeeding as drama just as triumphantly as it does as music.
The extravagant packaging, a fat hardback book with the CDs held in its covers, contains extensive background material in seven languages, including Occitan, and, as with the choice of music, contextualises the tale that Savall, Montserrat Figueras and their colleagues set out to tell: we are shown, for example, the creation of the Inquisition to suppress heresy and the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibelines, which would affect Dante, who defined Occitain as ‘the lands where the language of Oc is spoken’. The performances by La Cappella and Hespèrion are as magical as ever, and they are joined by several marvellous guest musicians from Armenia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Morocco. Barry Witherden