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The Black Dragon / Canconier

Release Date: 09/07/2012 
Label:  Canconier   Catalog #: 5637653782   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

THE BLACK DRAGON: Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula (c.1431–76) Cançonièr (period instruments) CANCD 02 (61:54, no texts)


If Gallup were to conduct a poll of Fanfare readers as to their listening habits, I suspect that medieval Read more music would be ranked somewhere near the bottom, right after Mantovani and rap music. That’s a shame, because music of the Middle Ages attracts some of the most imaginative musicians around. They have to be, because there is precious little information available about how to perform the music of Perotinus, Machaut, or Landini. It’s not like a work of Beethoven or Brahms, where the composers have exercised reasonable care in transcribing their wishes, not to mention a continuously transmitted performance tradition existing as backup. Performers of medieval music must re-create an entire musical practice from the ground up each time they step on stage or in front of a microphone. I like to think there is a kind of “inverse proportional” law in effect with medieval music: The further back in time you go, the more creative you have to be, the more you have to go out on a limb.

The present CD is a perfect example of re-creating an entire musical practice. Aside from its antiquity, much of this music lies outside of the (Western) European tradition and requires atypical instrumentation and non-standard performance technique. Even the scales are non-standard in many cases. The selections are so unusual in their provenance and specifics that they don’t fit the standard Fanfare headnote, so I’ve decided to give a running commentary instead.

The program begins with Michel Beheim’s poem Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle walda von der Walachei , set to a contrafactum melody from Oswald von Wolkenstein. Tim Rayborn, using mostly Sprechstimme , delivers the text con forza ; even without an English translation, it comes across as one brutal piece of political spin doctoring. Oswald’s original tune, Wol auf wir wellen slafen , comes next, stylishly sung by Phoebe Jevtovic. Conrad Paumann’s famous Mit ganzem Willem follows, performed as an instrumental on recorder and harp.

At this point, we leave Western Europe and venture into the uncharted waters of Eastern Europe. Volek sirolmtudotlon is a 13th-century Marian lament from Hungary, beautifully sung by Jevtovic. This is followed by A?t gondoltam, esö esik , a haunting Hungarian/Transylvania folk song, the sort of material that Bartók spent many years collecting. Dragaicuta is another Transylvanian number, treated as an instrumental with exotic vielle playing (Shira Kammen) and drums. Estéli imádság , from Moldavia, is a gentle lament (Jevtovic) accompanied by chimes. Ugr?inska Ruchenitsa is a lively Bulgarian dance that features solo turns on recorder (Annette Bauer) and vielle (Kammen).

With La Danse de cleves (15th century French), Amoroso (15th century Italian, featuring a tromba marina), and Dufay’s moving Lamentio Santae Matris Ecclesiae Contantinolitanae , we return briefly to somewhat familiar territory. Two Byzantine numbers follow: Voulgarikon of Ioannis Koukouzelis (late 14th century), an example of Byzantine court music prior to the fall of Constantinople, and Kyrie echechraxa , a hypnotic chant for Vespers. The aforementioned Turkish taksim on the ‘ud (Rayborn) is next, followed by Salvator noster (14th century Hungary). The program concludes with a vigorous reprise of Beheim’s poem.

You don’t have to be familiar with the music or the period to be drawn into these performances. The musicians are experts at what they do, and their enjoyment comes across loud and clear. The sounds of the voice, vielle, recorder, harp, ‘ud, and percussion are perfectly gauged, both individually and in ensemble, and have been skillfully captured by the recording engineer. The microtonal tuning in the Turkish and Byzantine numbers will be a challenge for many listeners, but don’t give up on it; this is fascinating stuff. A mesmerizing look into a brand-new but forgotten world—I hope to hear more from this group in the near future. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
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