El corazón de Alfonso X El Sabio

Cantigas de Murcia
[Música Antigua], Eduardo Paniagua
Pneuma PN-1560

The four volumes of the 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria  by Alphonso X (the Wise) constitute the most important musical collection to survive from medieval Spain, and the present CD is part of a remarkable project by Eduardo Paniagua’s Musica Antigua to record them all – a project which seems from the group’s discography to be well underway. For this CD they have selected those Cantigas which have associations with Murcia, where Alphonso X’s heart and entrails are buried. These provide a fascinating and engaging narrative which the programme notes both explain and illustrate, by reproducing the spectacular illustrations from the original manuscript. On the other hand, the opening pages of the booklet are unnecessarily cluttered, and an English translation of the instruments used is lacking, although the rest of the information and text appears in Spanish and English. It would have been interesting to have read a little more about the instruments, such as the chalumeaux which feature in track 4 – the chalumeau makes its first documented appearance on the musical scene in the early 1700s, although I’m sure the group are correct to assume that a single-reed clarinet-type pipe probably appeared first in the middle ages. Generally speaking, Musica Antigua produce a convincing sound using a mixture of appropriate instruments and singing and narrative voices. Ornamentation is effortless and natural and there is a delightful flow to these readings. I occasionally felt that the recorded sound was a little immediate, where a little more space and resonance would have made for more comfortable listening. I was unable to find where or when the recordings had been made, but I hope that they were within the hearing of Alphonso’s remains.

D. James Ross