Long Distance. No number
Regular readers of MT reviews will know I'm a big fan of polyphony; particularly that of Italy and most particularly that of Sardinia. This present disc is of Corsican polyphony, and very fine it is, too - so I'm now minded to include Corsica in the list ... but with some reservations.
My reservations stem from the fact that I'm not at all sure whether this is genuine Corsican polyphony or not. Now Corsica is right next-door to Sardinia and, despite having long been ruled by France, has its own culture which is far more Italian in nature. Furthermore, like Sardinia, it has undergone a recent revival - riacquistu (literally re-acquisition) - and many recordings are being made of old Corsican music which, necessarily, has had to be recreated in an appropriate style. One remembers something of the sort happening in Ireland at the turn of the previous century.
So what we hear on this CD sounds very like the Holy Week polyphony of Sardinia. There's no reason that it shouldn't, I guess - but, equally, no reason that it should. At this point a listener might wish to find out by reading the booklet notes for enlightenment ... but, as you will have surely guessed, s/he will be disappointed. The 20-page booklet, half in French, half in English, contains - apart from lots of nice photos of the singers - nothing but a load of utterly fatuous New Age style nonsense about how spiritual and uplifting the music is. Hard facts are few and far between, and those which do emerge make a sceptical reader extremely uneasy. The group was formed only two years ago; tracks 2, 3 and 4 are Italian songs from Genova; the Miserere at track 6 is Sardinian; and the Vultum Tuum Mass (the CD's most important piece) is said to have 'not been sung for nearly a thousand years since its prohibition by Rome in the 11th century'. Despite it being stated that 'these songs are handed down orally', nowhere is there any indication of who has done this oral transmission - the only sources are given as '7th century', '13th century' etc.
The most important clue to the origins of what we actually hear is to be found in the CD's back cover: 'Tempvs Fugit [sic] caused a sensation at the 2002 Calvi Festival of Polyphony. The group was singled out not only for its unusual vocal technique, but also for it innovative repertoire from the Nebbiu region, the result of research by ethno-musicologist Corinne Bartolini, with harmonisations by Antoine Tramini.' Not a great deal of oral transmission involved there, I would guess.
The CD is distributed by Harmonia Mundi, but this company's website has Long Distance listed only as a jazz label; Long Distance's own website is nothing but a list of the titles of the records in its catalogue - no cover pictures, no links to further info, nothing. The present CD, as you'll have noticed, doesn't even have a number!
This is a record of some very nice singing - you'll enjoy listening to it. The degree to which it is remotely authentic is questionable - and, whether or no, it certainly isn't traditional music.
Rod Stradling - 4.1.04
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