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Percival’s Lament - Medieval Music and the Holy Grail
Capilla Antigua de Chinchilla/José Ferrero
rec. Iglesia de San Julian, Chincilla de Montearagón, Albecete, Spain
Texts available from the Naxos website.
Contents listings below
NAXOS 8.572800 [54.25]

This disc is a follow-up to the same group’s Tristan’s Harp (Naxos 8.572784) which I have not heard, except online, but which obviously uses aspects of the Arthurian Romance tales as its catalyst. The Capilla Antigua de Chinchilla was founded in 2002 and is based in Spain; indeed I heard them in Toledo almost a decade ago. The director and inspirer is the tenor José Ferrero and he is accompanied, as it were, by five others, both singers and instrumentalists.
Tristan’s Harp came out only this year (2012) and consists of songs and dances from the 13th century and earlier. These are loosely based on the Tristan and Isolde legend. The new disc takes the Holy Grail tale as its starting point and again uses pieces from pan-European sources. We find German, French, Italian and English music scattered across a workable and varied programme mixing texted songs with purely instrumental pieces.
Amongst the composers listed is Chrétien de Troyes. This is something of a puzzle. In her detailed and unbeatable book The Music of the Troubadours (Indiana University Press 1996) Elizabeth Aubrey records all of the trovères and troubadours of the 12th and 13th Century; Troyes is neither listed nor even mentioned. In fact he left no melodies. That said, we know him as the greatest writer of courtly romance in French during the second half of the twelfth century. He worked for the highly musical Marie de Champagne and is credited with stories like Erec and Enid and The Story of the Grail about a strong-willed, often selfish and powerful figure we know as Percival. The CD booklet does not tell us where these melodies have come from; are they for instance contra-factum? One of them, Percival’s Lament is played instrumentally. In fact Troyes never finished his Story of the Grail. It ends mid-sentence and it is assumed that he died suddenly at that point. Several later writers added their own versions of a possible ending, most often quite convincingly. In truth it is something of rambling narrative covering over one hundred pages in the Penguin Edition. I read it of late and would like to say that the recorded songs follow the story in some way. I fear it is not so, but I can’t be sure because no texts are supplied - one must visit their website.

I like the variety of sounds which Capilla Antigua de Chinchilla use. There is a mezzo-soprano - Luisa Maesso - whose voice does not appeal to me in this repertoire, a counter-tenor - Juan Francisco Sanz - and Ferrero himself. The instruments include a psaltery, an Anglo-Saxon lyre, a Darbuke or darabukka - a simple hand drum, a Bendir, a African frame drum with no jingles but possessing a snare. There is a Gemshorn used beautifully in Eschenbach’s Wolframs Goldener Ton and the rather mysterious Tromba Marina used alongside an organetto in Eschenbach’s Do man dem elden. Also there is what is described as a Glastonbury Flute assembled from a stone carving found at Glastonbury Abbey, a very appropriate idea in the context of Arthurian legend. You may say that this is all a bit gimmicky and unauthentic but who’s to say. I find it fun and it makes me want to return to the disc.
It may seem odd that Hildegard of Bingen should appear alongside the German Minnesänger and a medieval Estampie. One of pieces is entitled Laus Trinitati, the other concerns love, Karitas habundat. It should be recalled that the Arthurian knights often visited hallowed places and heard sacred music at Mass. In contrast the story itself also mentions dancing on many occasions so La Ultime Estampie Royale is highly appropriate. In this recording the melody is orchestrated as it were, between at least three melody instruments. The English song Fowles in the Frith gets in to the fold. Booklet writer Ferrero equates this with religious symbolism and with Christ’s Passion. Of especial interest is Palästinalied that reminds us of the crusaders’ discovery of the Holy Land in the awful wars in the 13th century and of the beauty they found there.
There are the usual performer biographies and photographs in addition to the useful if brief notes. The recording is immediate yet atmospheric. It’s a pity that in all we have well short of an hour’s music in this quite rarely heard repertoire.
Gary Higginson 

Contents Listing
Tannhäuser (fl. mid 13th Century) Staeter dienest, der is guot [5.25]
Wolfram von Eschenbach (fl.1170-1220) Wolfram’s goldener Ton[2.30]; Was solein keyser one recht? [4.03]; Do mandem edelen sin gezelt[5.33]
Chrétien de Troyes (fl.1160-1190) D’amors, qui ma’ tolu a moi [5.01]; Percival’s Lament[3.49]
Rigaut de Berbezilh (fl.c.1140-50) Altrassi com Persaveus el temps que vivia [5.57]
Anon English (c.1270) Fowles in the frith [1.50]
Walther von der Vogelweide (c.1200) Under der linden [2.46]; Palästinalied [5.27]; Ich saz üf eime steine [2.36]
Anon French (13th Cent) La Ultime Estampie Royale [3.43]
Hildegard von Bingen (d.1180) Karitas habundat [3.12]; Laus Trinitati [2.32]