Homenatge al Misteri D’elx: La Vespra

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COMPOSERS: Anonymous
LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: Sacred Drama for the Feast of the Assumption
PERFORMER: Montserrat Figueras, Arianna Savall, Lluis Vilamajó, Pascal Bertin, Lambert Climent, Francese Garrigosa, Daniele Carnovich; La Capella Reial de Catalunya/Jordi Savall


Elche (Elx) is a small town in Spain, and in 2001 its mystery play about the death and resurrection of the Virgin Mary was included in UNESCO’s list of ‘masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. This recording of Part 1 of the play is billed as ‘a restoration of a performing tradition that seeks to strike a necessary balance between the various different accounts of the Mystery that have been handed down to us’.

Since the musical source dates from as late as 1709, suffice it to say that not all of the mysteries here are to be found in the plot. The performance has a strong solo cast, dominated by the wonderful vocal magic of Montserrat Figueras as the Virgin Mary. Arianna Savall is pleasing as the Angel, but, in her noble set piece, ‘Lo vostre Fill’, she takes an indulgent six minutes to ornament the melody for just four lines of text.

Even given the reflective nature of the drama, the ‘improvisations’ are dreadfully slow and produce the artistic equivalent of cryogenics – the performers, absorbed with their technical displays, seem indifferent to the frozen, forgotten, bodily form of the music lying close by.


Signs of musical finesse are everywhere (the flute playing of Pierre Hamon, for example), but the whole lacks the collective vigour, the slightly rough-hewn fervour, of a community mystery play. Instead of a ‘restoration’ we have an effete meditation on a dead body that will have to wait for other hands to resurrect it. Anthony Pryer