SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“El Cant de la Sibil-la” = Montserrat Figueras, sop./ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox Heritage

Few back catalogs are as rich as that of Alia Vox…

Published on August 17, 2011

“El Cant de la Sibil-la” = Montserrat Figueras, sop./ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox Heritage

“El Cant de la Sibil-la” = Sibil-la Llatina; Sibil-la Provencal; Sibil-la Catalana – Montserrat Figueras, soprano/ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Jordi Savall, director – Alia Vox Heritage multichannel SACD 9879, 55:50 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Jordi Savall continues to re-release (in excellent pseudo-surround SACDs) his extensive and important back catalog—now on a separate label spinoff called Alia Vox Heritage. We can certainly be grateful for this as so many of these recordings are standard-setters in terms of importance, repertory, sound, and absolute performance. This issue is from 1988 but sounds as if it was minted yesterday.

The topic is Sibyls, derived from a Latin word that comes from the Greek “sibylla” meaning “prophetess”. The earliest accounts of them are in the realm of legend, though some enter into history through other sources. Some, like the Delphic Sibyl, remained at one location (she was supposedly the daughter of Poseidon), while others later on were itinerant. Generally they were known only by their place of stay, and only two of the Greek sibyls are known to be historical.  According to the historian and early church writer Lactantius, there were ten altogether, Persian, Libyan, Delphic, Cimmerian, Erythraean, Samian, Cumaean, Hellespontine, Phrygian, and Tiburtine. The Cumaean and Tiburtine Sibyls are the ones that excited the Christian world, the former much taken with Rome and prophesying the coming of a savior, while the latter, in an admittedly apocryphal document, foretells Christ, Constantine the Great, Antichrist, and the end of the world.

These sayings were taken up by the newly-minted Christian world and incorporated into religious poems that would be sung in church and sacred dramas.   The 10th through 13th centuries saw a lot of these poems incorporated into religious settings, hearkening back to a tradition that began when St. Augustine mentioned the Sibyllic prophecies in a sermon. The 13th century saw a proliferation of settings by various composers, and on this album Savall has chosen to focus on three (the ones mentioned in the head note), each with a different musical makeup and instrumentation.

Though the prophecies themselves often speak of very harsh things, the music is anything but, actually quite comforting and exceptionally beautiful, hypnotically so. The forces here play with superb sensibility and taste, one of the best of their many excellent albums. This is an easy recommendation.

— Steven Ritter




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