The Llibre Vermell (Vermilion Book) is among the most treasured artifacts from the medieval Abbey of Montserrat, near Barcelona. Taking its name from its bright red velvet binding, it contains tales of miracles attributed to the Virgin, summaries of church doctrine, and a song book, from which the contents of this album are taken. The songs, in which Western, Judaic, and Moorish influences come together, present a remarkable picture of religious music-making in Spain in the late fourteenth century.
The manuscript's diverse cultural and musical influences are beautifully illuminated in this recording by Carles Magraner, the Capella de Ministrers, the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, and singers Pilar Esteban and Lambert Climent. The Capella's cross-cultural blend of historical instruments, combined with remarkably evocative chanting and vocal solos, creates a vivid picture of the Montserrat monastery -- one that brings to mind not only the sounds, but also the space, smells, and atmosphere of the building and its worship. It would be hard to exaggerate the beauty of the results. The choir's chanting is so unified in rhythm and sound, and exact in pitch, that the six individual voices sound like the amplified reflection of just one. The Capella's instrumental realizations are masterpieces in sound, making the most of instrumental color, percussion, and the underlying dance rhythms that inform many of the pieces. Top compliments have to go to the recording engineers, who managed to preserve the ambience of the church in which the recording was made without sacrificing any intimacy or clarity of sound. It is as close as any recording can come to putting you right there with the musicians, in an acoustically beautiful space.