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Estampies & Danses Royales - Le Manuscrit du Roi - ca. 1270-1320 Anonymous : Danse I - La Prime Estampie Royal - La Seconde Estampie Royal - La Tierche Estampie Royal - La Quarte Estampie Royal - La Quinte Estampie Real - La Sexte Estampie Real - La Septime Estampie Real - La Uitime Estampie Real - Dansse Real
Raimbaut de Vaqueiras : Estampie Ancienne: Kalenda mayra - Estampie Ancienne: No m'agrad'iverns
Giraut de Borneill : Chanson: No puesec sofrir c'a la dolor
Marcabru : Planctus: Pax! in nomini Domini!

Hespèrion XXI, Jordi Savall (director)
Recorded at Monestir de Santes Creus (August 29 to September 7, 2007) – 72'12
Alia Vox AV 9857 – Booklet in French, English, Spanish, Italian and German (distributed by harmonia mundi/distribué par Naïve)

Estampies & Danses Royales, the Alia Vox' excellent new collection of medieval dance music under Jordi Savall, wins major points for presentation before one even pops the CDs out of the case. In an era of often skimpy documentation and bare-bones packaging for classical selections, Alia Vox has done a splendid job with its sensible, tri-fold cardboard packaging, exquisitely decorated with a variety of period renderings, that leaves the disc and booklet easily accessible and appealing to the eye. The booklet itself is a major plus, more enchanting artwork and a plethora of photographs which accompany two richly informative essays by David Fallows and Savall himself, in five languages. Bravo.

But the point here is the music itself, and what the eye promises from the packaging is more than fulfilled for the ear in a delightful performance of this intriguing music, played with a verve and care that belie the passage of seven centuries since its composition. Many of these pieces will be familiar to early music mavens, though they have more often been encountered in bits and pieces interspersed with other music of the period. Savall's scholarship has suggested that many of these dances were likely intended as elements of a suite or cycle, and has presented them as such.

Of course whatever tempi and orchestrations were originally intended - if indeed those matters were ever definitively explicated - have long been lost to the sands of time. Savall and Hespèrion XXI, his wonderful 12-piece period band, field as plausible and enjoyable interpretation of these pieces as has been encountered in memory - other collections may have made more refulgent choices in terms of instrumentation, but few have interpreted these ancient tunes with such flair, rendering them as if only first imagined and heard.

The opening Danse I immediately announces the quality of the playing here with a rhythmic propulsion, crispness of strings, and percussive brio that proves a joy throughout. The quieter, more contemplative selections such as the No m'agrad'iverns by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, and Marcabru's Pax! in nomini Domini! are rendered with lyrical grace and there is a nice, celebratory crackle to the closing Dansse Real, and particularly a La Ultime Estampie Real that leaves one tapping a toe despite oneself.

There are several fine selections of this music already available to be sure, but those who love the genre will absolutely want to add this one to their collection. This is a disc I suspect will be pulled from the shelves with some regularity.

Mark Thomas Ketterson




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