Laudario di Cortona No. 91: Paraliturgical Vocal Music from the Middle Ages
Laudario is the Italian equivalent of the Latin word Laudarium, a collection of songs of praise. This collection, dating from around 1250, contains laude or vernacular hymns which would have been sung as an adjunct to the Latin liturgy for particular times of the church year or feasts of the Virgin Mary and other saints. They range from simple monophonic settings to early polyphony and some of the items are accompanied.
Associated with St. Francis, or at least with the Franciscans, they would have helped the laity to keep in touch with the liturgy in the same way as the English Lay Folks Mass Book from a rather later period of the Middle Ages – EETS text online. That text also contains some verses not dissimilar to the laude in the Cortona collection. The number 91 is something of a red herring: there are not that number of laude in the collection; rather that’s the number of the manuscript in which they are preserved in the Biblioteca Communale di Cortona.
Let me deal first with one possible reservation: the original music would have been sung by an all-male ensemble whereas Armoniosoincanto is an all-female ensemble; though on this occasion they are supplemented by male singers and instrumentalists from Anonima Frottolisti it’s the female voices that predominate.
That didn’t worry me, but if you want a recording on which the male voices are slightly more predominant, there’s a Tactus recording of sixteen of these pieces sung by La Dolce Vista/Giovanni Caruso. I also enjoyed hearing that recording but it costs at least as much for a single selection as the whole Brilliant Classics set and there are some all-female items there, too. (TC270001: Sample/stream/download from Qobuz.) In fact, there’s almost as much minority male participation on Brilliant as on Tactus, so you may as well have four times the music for the same money.
If you think that predominantly female voices may rule out this recording for you, I suggest sampling from Qobuz, though I wouldn’t recommend downloading from there: at least one dealer is currently offering the CD set for less than the Qobuz download. For those who have fallen in love with the music of Hildegard of Bingen, the female singers here may well prove an advantage in evoking recordings of her works.
Another, more serious, reservation: there are no texts in the brief booklet – available online – and I couldn’t find the promised online texts and translations: 13th-century Italian isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The Tactus release does contain texts, but no translations, and they are available, with the recording, from Naxos Music Library.
Both the Tactus and Brilliant recordings are beautifully sung. There is very little to choose between them in that respect, except that the acoustic and recording quality on Brilliant, together with that of the performances, makes the music sound even more ethereal. At times Armoniosoincanto sound like six Emma Kirkbys – and I can’t offer higher praise than that. The other equally distinguished comparison that comes to mind is with Anonymous 4. My next stop was their recording of similar repertoire, a few items also taken from the Cortona collection, Ave Donna Santissima (Tactus TC260001). That was recorded in 2005 and they take a little longer now over the three items common to both collections but I liked both.
We can’t be sure if there would have been instrumental accompaniment or of what kind, but the flutes, harp, lute, vielle, dulcimer, portative organ and other instruments of the time employed here are never obtrusive. The Tactus recording also employs instruments.
I don’t propose that you listen to all four CDs in sequence but there is certainly enough variety on each disc to maintain your interest for the 70 minutes or so of each. Lovers of the likes of the music of Hildegard of Bingen should need no bidding. Others may wish to sample first but most will succumb to these ethereal performances. This is an unbelievably inexpensive set – even less per disc than the original Naxos releases – but it’s certainly not cheap in the other sense.
-- Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: BRI94872
Label: Brilliant Classics
Conductor: Franco Radicchia