SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
The Forgotten Kingdom: The Tragedy of the Cathars – Montserrat Figueras, Pascal Bertin, Marc Mauillon, Lluis Vilamajo, Furio Zanasi, singers/ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall, director – AliaVox (3 SACDs)
Published on May 6, 2010
The Forgotten Kingdom: The Tragedy of the Cathars – Montserrat Figueras, Pascal Bertin, Marc Mauillon, Lluis Vilamajo, Furio Zanasi, singers/ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall, director – AliaVox multichannel SACD 9873 (3 discs), 229:37 [Dist. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
[Second illustration is the back cover of the album]
Catharism is a name given to a Christian heresy from the 12th-13th centuries. Occitania, never an official country but rather more of a cultural concept that engulfed most of the southern part of France, portions of Spain, Italy, and Monaco, was once Aquitania in the time of the Romans, northern France being known as Gaul. In this region the Cathars – a Gnostic sect that essentially believed in the dualism of good and evil, the vileness of the material world and the need to transcend it – flourished. They were like so many of the early heresies which threatened the Christian Church because of their emphasis on the chosen few, meaning that only a small number of people were actually included among those illumined (called the perfecti), who also engaged in extreme asceticism and denied any virtues to the flesh, this one also had ancient roots.
Because of the Cathar proximity to the birth of the troubadour, that singer of Occitan lyric poetry during the high middle ages, and the fact of their brutal suppression in the Albigensian Crusade in the very early 1200s, Savall and company have decided to create this lavish multi-language, full-color photo, 565 page book that spans three regally-recorded SACDs. One can see the attraction—this period is replete with great music, great stories, brutal history, persecuted people, and historical curiosities– Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander who headed the crusade, when asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics said—supposedly—”Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own.” Such cavalier comments do little to create a favorable impression among readers today, though it must be admitted that many false and questionable political polemics find their origin in a misunderstanding of this age.
The music is a different matter. Because of the location of all the action, Savall has decided to present this in seven chapters, starting with the beginnings of the Cathars in East and West, and ending with their dispersion. I read a comment from a listener somewhere that the Savall discs are starting to run into one another, good as they are; the music sounds like so many other of his efforts. But this one I think truly is special, for the music is superbly executed and wonderfully chosen. Somehow the pieces stick in the memory better, and the narrative sequence is profound and telling. While I do not agree with much of the premise in the defense of Catharism that seems to inculcate this release, the music speaks volumes about other aspects of their lives and the lives of those around them that mere words cannot approach, and as such recommend this release—despite the $75 price ticket—highly.
– Steven Ritter