Canti di pellegrinaggio al Monte Serrato
Having been beguiled by the Llibre Vermell of Montserrat ever since acquiring as a student the famous 1979 CD account by Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XX, I was delighted to be sent this account by Ensemble Micrologus. This group has been releasing a large number of CDs in the UK recently, all of which apply their uniquely spontaneous and dynamic approach to music of the Middle Ages. I was sure their approach would suit the music of the Llibre Vermell and I was not disappointed. The manuscript consists largely of a collection of songs for use by the pilgrims to Montserrat, although no doubt many of them are simply written records of pre-existent folk and pilgrim material. The simple and lively music, the football chants of their day, is given a variety of sparkling performances by Micrologus, who call upon their wide range of instruments and vocal permutations to bring the repertoire vividly to life. There is little music from the 14th century which so dramatically brings to life the everyday religious life of the common people, and in these sparkling performances we can easily picture the pilgrims clustered round an open fire or marching cheerfully up the hill to the shrine to the Blessed Virgin. Montserrat was the second most famous shrine in Spain after Santiago de Compostela and a popular focus for local adoration. Fortunately for those compiling CDs based on the contents of the Llibre, the forthright, uncomplicated walking and fireside repertoire is complemented by a number of more lyrical and contemplative pieces such as the enigmatic Mariam matrem virginem, although it has to be said that Micrologus take a less sympathetic approach with this fragile material than did the late great Montserrat Figueras and the vocal ensemble of Hespérion XX. The other problem with the Micrologus CD is the lack of an English translation of the notes, which appear only in Italian, with no translations at all of the song texts. This surely ought to have been a priority if the group are hoping seriously to market their recordings in the UK.
D. James Ross