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Homenatge al Misteri d'Elx - La Vespra
Catalonian Anonymous, Spanish Anonymous, Jordi Savall
Homenatge al Misteri d'Elx - La Vespra
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (41) - Disc #1


      
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CD Reviews

The longest running show in Europe...
ewomack | MN USA | 08/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Some time in the thirteenth century a soldier named Francesc Canto patrolled the waters off of Elche ('Elx' in Catalan), Spain for maurading pirates. A vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and soon after he found a casket. It contained the music and text for the Misteri D'Elx, recorded on this CD. More than a bit of legend doubtlessly pervades this account, but visitors to Elche can still hear the piece performed every year around mid-August (good luck finding tickets). The Misteri D'Elx miraculously remains Europe's longest running religious show thanks in part to Pope Urban VIII who excepted it from the Council of Trent's ban on theatricality within church walls in 1632. It survived the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire, the Franco years, and it just keeps on going and going year by year to the present day. Young boys still play and sing the female roles, including the Virgin Mary, by tradition (which may raise some eyebrows). UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized the piece in 2001 as a piece of the heritage of humanity, likely ensuring it another 800 years or more of performance.

The entire festival takes place on two successive nights. This CD contains music for the first part only, la Vespra, performed on the first day of the Elche festival. The second part, la Festa, follows on the proceeding evening (can we look forward to a companion CD in the future?). Both parts together tell the story of the death, assumption, and coronation of the Virgin Mary. La Vespra ends with the Virgin's death, surrounded by the Apostles (summoned by an angel), who vow to bury her in Jehoshaphat, as she requested.

The music moves along slowly. No toe tappers here. Track twelve turns four lines of text into over six minutes of music. Many of the other tracks follow similar methodical and plodding rhythms. The tone and mood inspire awe, contemplation, and reverence for the depicted story. Don't expect to dance. Expect to contemplate and follow the soaring and swooping melodies gorgeously performed by Montserrat Figueras, Arianna Savall, and others accompanied by the always incredible La Capella Reial de Catalunya. Jordi Savall, in the CD book, says he wanted to break the 'unjust old ban' of females from the performance of this piece, and that 'the expressive power and intense spirituality inherent in the symbolism of these characters, particularly in the Virgin and the Angel, required the presence of the female dimension'. The results don't disappoint. Fans of intensely beautiful singing will appreciate every second of this CD. Montserrat Figueras, as the Virgin Mary, and Arianna Savall, as the Angel, give amazing performances throughout. Repeated listenings evoke more and more.

To fully appreciate this piece, follow along with the words at least once (use the Catala column as reference). This bridges the text and music and brings the entire piece to life. Almost exclusive vocal works, such as this one, typically rely on the text to illuminate the melodies to greater heights. The improvised accompaniment of La Capella de Catalunya adds to the effect.

Lastly, Savall and Company call this an homage or tribute to the Misteri D'Elx. In other words, they may have taken some liberties with the structure and music of the piece as performed in Elche. Knowing this group, however, such liberties will result in nothing more than amazing music and performance."
Mysterious and beautiful
M. Tietjen | Syracuse, NY, USA | 08/02/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The vocal soloists on this disc are amazing. I have followed the recording career of Arianna Savall from the beginning, and I must say that nepotism plays no part; she deserves every solo she has. Singing side by side with her mother, it is hard to choose a favorite. Generally, Savall's voice is prettier and her technique a bit more solid, while Montserrat Figueras specializes more in the emotional aspect of the music. On this disc, they are evenly matched; the mother's voice sounds better than it has in years, and the daughter's performance is so hauntingly emotional that it leaves the listener holding their breath. Comparing the two is nearly impossible. They are unmatched in this repertoire.

Ironically, they are part of the reason I cannot give the album 5 stars; their main solos come at the beginning of the work and leave the listener a feeling a bit disappointed that the rest of the disc doesn't quite live up to them. However, I would still strongly recommend this disc to anyone."