Antequera - Cantigas de Santa Maria
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cd cover Johannette Zomer and Antequera
Cantigas de Santa Maria
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Long the staple of many an early music ensemble, the "Cantigas de Santa Maria" get a new treatment in this elegant release. The eight-member Antequera pays homage to the reverent spirit of the texts, paeans to the Virgin possibly written by King Alfonso X of Spain from 1221-1284. Nine of the over 400 existing cantigas are presented here, interspersed with three instrumentals. Unlike many other cantigas that survived the ages, in which the text only exists, the Cantigas de Santa Maria come to us with the music intact. The single-line melodies that have been preserved in lushly illuminated texts have received any number of interpretations over the years.

The music is beautifully realized, with a quiet understated warmth. The instrumentalists improvise underneath the vocalists, never exceeding the bounds of taste or overpowering with shows of technical bravado. Johannette Zomer's warm, fluid soprano is inviting, flawless in its ornamentation and intonation. The pacing of most of the songs is slow and deliberate, enabling the listener to savor each note and word. The lute, rebab, dumbek, and frame drum accompaniment imparts a Moorish flavor that, rather than contradicting the deeply Christian context of the songs, enhances their meditative nature. The eleven and a half minute epic, "Des oge mais," allows the instrumentalists to stretch out. In the long introduction, they take turns improvising over a rebab drone. The song itself, the first cantiga, tells of the seven joys granted to Mary by her Son. In contrast, the song that follows it, "Dized' ai trobadores" (Cantiga 260), is a short, snappy praise song with just percussion accompaniment.

Gently innovative yet respectful of tradition, this gorgeous release will find an audience beyond the average early music enthusiast. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available from cdRoots

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