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Lux Feminæ, 900-1600
     

Lux Feminæ, 900-1600

by Montserrat Figueras
 
The words sumptuous and ambitious both apply to this release by soprano Montserrat Figueras, accompanied by musicians from the orbit of early music miracle-maker Jordi Savall. Consider the hardbound, 170-page booklet, with no fewer than 44 reproductions of medieval Iberian artwork and music manuscript, many in full color. It's true that

Overview

The words sumptuous and ambitious both apply to this release by soprano Montserrat Figueras, accompanied by musicians from the orbit of early music miracle-maker Jordi Savall. Consider the hardbound, 170-page booklet, with no fewer than 44 reproductions of medieval Iberian artwork and music manuscript, many in full color. It's true that the 170 pages allow for the rendering of Figueras's notes into six languages: Catalan, English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Song texts, which are in various languages including Arabic, Hebrew, and Basque along with various Iberian forms of the Middle Ages, are also translated into these six languages. But Figueras's essay is a weighty thing in itself. She proposes nothing less than an evolutionary typology of women as musically represented in medieval Spain, dividing her 15 pieces into the categories of "Femina Antiqua" (Woman of Antiquity), "Femina Nova" (The New Woman, among whom are classed the female poets who blossomed in the era of the troubadours), "Femina Ludica" (The Playful Woman), "Femina Mistica" (The Mystic Woman), "Femina Mater" (Woman the Mother), and "Femina Gemens" (The Lamenting Woman). Apparently these categories are Figueras's own, not drawn on ideas of other writers -- it wouldn't be the first time performers led scholars to a new understanding of medieval music, but it will be interesting to see how the disc is received in specialist circles. She discusses the individual works, whose themes cross ethnic lines and the line between sacred and secular, both in a characteristically Spanish way. And each thematic category is accompanied by its own poetic "glosa" or gloss, written by Manuel Forcano. The musical realization of these ideas is gorgeous. The accompaniment, which at times includes a rebab and other Arabic instruments as well as European medieval stringed instruments, is subtle, changing its shape according to the ethnic origin and the nature of the piece but never coming to the fore. The focus remains squarely on Figueras's remarkable voice. You can listen to it for its sheer surface, which somehow is both pure and earthy at the same time. But then you'd miss her powerful way of interpreting the texts, which range from the sublime (the "Femina Mistica" is no less than Saint Teresa of Avila, whose reflections on the soul, the very essence of feminine interiority, are set to the tune of an existing villancico), to the ridiculous (the villancico "Soleta so jo aci" of Bartomeu Càrceres may be among the earliest formulations of "Quick, come on up, my husband is out of town"). Some of the music here was actually composed by women, while some genres, such as the medieval Spanish canción de amigo and one type of villancico, typically depict women, which "allows us," Figueras writes, "to imagine a possible female creative presence." Dealing with the voice of a mere mortal, one might take issue with that particular bit of speculation. But the power of Figueras's female archetypes doesn't leave much room for argument. This disc is an absolutely essential purchase for Figueras fans and for anyone whose interest runs toward women's history, and it is strongly recommended for everyone else, especially those fascinated by the golden age in which Spain's multiple cultures -- Christian, Islamic, and Jewish -- flowed together.

Product Details

Release Date:
06/13/2006
Label:
Alia Vox Spain
UPC:
7619986398471
catalogNumber:
9847
Rank:
118967

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Flavit auster
  2. Judicii Signum (Sibilla Latine)
  3. Gar kom lebare, jarcha (Al-Andalus)
  4. Estat ai en greu cossirier
  5. Soleta so jo aci
  6. Niña y viña
  7. Yo me soy la morenica, cançion
  8. Alma, buscarte has en Mi, contrafacta of "Dama, mi grande querer" (CMP)
  9. Hal sabil likhalwa (Al-Andalus)
  10. Ondas de mar de Vigo, cantiga de amigo (music missing)
  11. Soleta i verge estich
  12. Aurtxo txikia negarrez, nana (Basque)
  13. Plany d'Estelina
  14. Saeta antigua (Andalucía)
  15. Flavit auster

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