★★★★☆

Winsome Evans and the Renaissance Players have long since proved their dedication to early music in Australia, and in this release, the fifth in a series, they bring to life the music of medieval Spain. The Cantigas de Santa Maria is a collection of poems and music in praise of the Virgin Mary, thought to have been written by King Alfonso X during the 13th century. Therein lies the rub, though – how to accurately perform music so ancient?

In the liner notes, Evans argues that Spain at the time took influence from Christian, Judaic, and Islamic beliefs, and as such musical performances would presumably be influenced by the same cultures. Therefore, on this recording there’s a kaleidoscopic range of instruments including Middle Eastern percussion such as the darabuka as well as shawms, the Turkish saz, and psalteries.

The resulting arrangements are colourful and inventive, with soprano Mina Kanaridis singing particularly well on the hypnotic Poi-las Figuras. Some of the tracks are a little daunting, though. Beeyto Foi o Dia (Blessed and Fortunate), concerning the birth of Mary, is nearly 25 minutes long – rather a lot of medieval Galician. It’s a fine recording, and an even more impressive bit of scholarship. An excellent recording for those with an interest in the scholarly side of medieval music.

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