Brigitte Lesne / Alla Francesca

Mediterranea

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If you attend some concerts of medieval music or take a course covering the music of the period, you will encounter pieces by singers known as troubadours or trouvères, depending on where in France they came from, or minnesingers, if from German-speaking lands. But Europe was more linguistically diverse 6-700 years ago than it is today, and medieval songs from a variety of places, some in languages no longer spoken, have come down to the present day, perhaps by oral transmission, perhaps collected by scholars or other observers, perhaps notated in a few cases. Performers are beginning to rediscover songs, especially from around the Mediterranean region, with special emphasis thus far on the tricultural heritage of the Spanish golden age. This collection by the French group Alla Francesca includes Sephardic Jewish pieces from Iberia, as well as a few troubadour songs by the Countess of Die and other anonymous creators. But it includes a group of songs from along Italy's west coast, from Naples to Tuscany, in what would now be called dialects of Italian but weren't thought of that way at the time. Several themes were common across the repertory: songs on some variation of courtly love, cradle songs, Marian pieces, and what might be called songs of a knight errant. There are also several instrumental dances of the kind that appear on many medieval discs. All the texts are given in their original languages, French and English, and a brief introduction to the music in the latter two languages is also included. Alla Francesca is a trio of scholar-singers, accompanying themselves on harps, winds, and percussion; compared with the heavily Arabic-influenced sounds coming out of Spain or even with the medieval recordings of Jordi Savall's groups, these are rather sedate interpretations, pleasant but lacking a sense of the distinct cultural flavors stressed in the booklet notes. The disc is a welcome addition, however, to the sparse set of recordings exploring this legacy.

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