Ave Donna Santissima: Itinerario Musicale Intorno a Maria

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Italian label Tactus has for its mission the resurrection of forgotten music, and it succeeds in that mission here: these Italian medieval pieces are little known, at least outside of Italy. The music corresponds to the earliest stages of polyphony from southwestern France but dates from at least a couple of centuries later. The music is all devoted to the worship of Mary, and, this being Italy you're dealing with, the booklet includes a helpful explication of why one might want to do such a thing. The 13 selections are divided between chant and simple two-part polyphony and between Latin and Italian, with the troping (inserted elaboration) impulse manifesting itself in quite a variety of ways -- a piece may begin with Latin plainchant and then switch to verses in Italian, to polyphony, or both. The music is sung by an all-female choir and occasionally accompanied by harp, psaltery, bells, or a small flute. The booklet notes, which require a good deal of familiarity with medieval literature to understand, do not explain these stylistic choices but instead delve in depth into the nature of the literary Marian impulse during this period. The effect may or may not be authentic but it is pleasant to hear, and the singers of the choir Armoniosoincanto a wondrous sense of discovery to the polyphonic passages. The audience for this disc will probably be limited to medievalists, for it's not on a level with Sequentia's imaginative reconstructions. But it's not out of that league, either, and if the dawn of multipart music in the West has ever seized your attention you will be intrigued by this. Texts are in Latin and Italian only, but many of them (the Salve Regina and the Stabat Mater for example) are familiar ones.

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