Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

A few years ago, in a review of Alia Musica’s recording Unica Hispaniae–a program of music from early Spanish manuscripts–I urged listeners to “keep an eye on” this excellent ensemble of singers and instrumentalists (for review, type Q560 in Search Reviews). A follow-up recording–of Medieval Judeo-Spanish music (type Q3709)–was equally impressive and, along with several other releases, firmly established this group’s credentials as a compelling, sincerely devoted advocate of rich and rare repertoire. With this new disc, Alia Musica continues to reward the serious attention of all early music fans by means of yet another unusual program of highly accomplished performances. The concept here is an assemblage of 14 vocal works drawn primarily from 13th-century manuscripts–two Spanish and another from Paris–that concern religious symbolism of animals, together forming what in medieval terms could be described as a “Bestiary of Christ” (Bestiario de Cristo).

By means of various ancient vocal forms–primarily conductus and motet–we are introduced to depictions of everything from the eagle, ox, and goat to lambs, lions, dragons, flies, moths, and serpents. Woven into the poetry are the essential threads that tie these animals and their perceived general characteristics to one or more religious values, symbols, or images. Although these representations were well-known and accepted at the time, listeners today will not notice any particular cues in the music itself; rather, these songs sound pretty much like hundreds of other contemporary religious vocal pieces–albeit of the most structurally refined, melodically appealing, and skillfully written kind. So for most of us, just listening to the lively, polished performances by male and female singers, accompanied by various period instruments will be enjoyment enough–but for the more curious, the extensive and very well written liner notes offer a fine introduction to the deeper meaning of the texts and provide important context for each song. Four instrumental selections round out this flawlessly recorded program, enhanced by the ambience of the Spanish monastery venue. [6/14/2003]

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Recording Details:


Animal symbolism in religious music of 13th-century Spain -

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