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GRAMOPHONE : (Awards Issue - 2002)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode:  3149020173213



Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

This recital shows off Mala Punica at their eccentric best.

Pedro Memelsdorff's approach to the music of the late middle ages has always been very free: the musical text is taken as a point of departure for some very speculative plays with scoring, musical time, ornamentation, the relationship between voices and many other things besides. The concept of speculation has distinguished antecedents in the repertory of the period. Most famously, there is the 'fumeuse speculacion' of Solage's famous ballade, Funeux fume; here, Narcissus gazes fondly at his reflection in the water, as in a mirror (speculum) in one of Paolo da Firenze's songs. How far this sanction constitutes interpretative licence is, of course, a matter for debate; and I should say from the outset that many of Mala Punica's past recordings seemed to me to push that licence further than was reasonable.

So what has changed? For one thing, Memelsdorff has tightened the improvisatory sections, in both real and in musical time: the sense of spaciousness is still there, but the musical structure is more closely adhered to than before. One finds Mala Punica's trademark 'doodles' as well, but now reined in: the disc's longest track lasts less than seven minutes. This greater cogency contributes to an increased sense of purpose and co-ordination within the ensemble. And this, in turn, places the spotlight on individual performances when appropriate. I wouldn't like to single anybody out, but the singers are now central to the musical argument, which is surely as it should be in texted music. At the same time, the instruments have a presence and beauty that cannot be solely attributed to a fine sound recording. Of course, this is not the only way to perform the music of the Ars subtilior and its aftermath, and there will still be some for whom Mala Punica go too far. As far as the aesthetic decisions embodied here are concerned, let's call me a benevolent agnostic; but as to this recording's artistic merit, I am delighted to count myself a convert.

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