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Lamento di Tristano

Spanish medieval music

Capella de Ministrers/Carlos Magraner
18 December 2003, Instituto Cervantes, London

Some of the capital's most enjoyable musical events are intimate concerts given in the cultural centres of different countries connected with their embassies. The hall at Instituto Cervantes in Eaton Square holds an audience of about 100 and doubles as an art gallery which, this month held a powerful and intriguing exhibition of pictures by the American graphic artist Laurie Lipton, recreating in contemporary terms etchings of Goya which were shown alongside his works.

The music was from the 13/14 C, a period when christian and arab coexisted in Spain and there was a flowering of music and culture. The programme was taken from estampidas in the Manuscrit du Roi and dances from a 14 C. Tuscan manuscript containing the Lamento di Tristano, one of the oldest instrumental works from the Middle Ages. The selection of short pieces was played in several groups without interval and the versatile musicians held us in thrall with continual changes of timbre, changing instruments frequently, very much as did the great David Munrow, whom they revered as a pioneer in their field.

The acoustic was ideal for the delicate sounds of the viol played by Carlos Magraner, recorders of some five different sizes, oud, medieval harp, hurdy-gurdy and a range of finger-percussion instruments. Two of them played from what looked like schematic music scores, the others from memory and what I would characterise as rehearsed improvisation. It all was compelling and roused the near capacity audience, mostly Spanish, to a fervour of enthusiasm. This occasion was the group's first visit to UK, and they came for only this one event. Capella de Ministrers would go down well at the South Bank's early music series, and in York?

The same programme can be enjoyed on a delightful CD, CDM 0307, recorded at the Cultural Centre of Valencia in 2002, and with an intriguing cover picture of "Les riches Heures du Duc de Berry"! Sound quality is superb and the CD reproduces exactly the feeling of the live presentation.

A taste of the music can be heard at Capella de Ministrers' website, which makes a brave attempt at translating the material into English. Purchase from capella@ciberia.com.


© Peter Grahame Woolf