Voches de Sardinna
Winter & Winter 901 023-2
An unusual double CD in almost every way. It came from a German company no MT or fRoots person has ever heard of, without any sort of press release or information, and no indication of who distributes it. Then it’s oddly presented - in a nice ‘thick book’ package, beautifully made of heavy card and craft paper and without the merest milligram of plastic anywhere - yet, despite all this opulence, it claims only to be the ‘Basic Edition’, but without any indication of what extras the DeLuxe might contain. The 7mm thick, 112 page booklet built into the package is beautifully printed in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Sard, and is adorned with rather nice modern woodcuts. Each language gets around 4 pages of notes and 12 of translated song texts.
The contents of the two CDs is also unusual in several ways. The Island of Sardinia is very rich in traditional song, music and dance of all kinds, and supports two distinct forms of polyvocal singing. The first is the (by now, quite well known) Cantu á Tenores tradition currently being popularised world-wide by the Tenores di Bitti, among others. The second is the Coro or Cuncordu tradition of sacred songs which, these days, are used mainly within the celebrations surrounding Holy Week - but in the quite recent past they were an integral part of numerous socio/religious rituals. These could include more than 80 feasts in the religious calendar, and perhaps up to 50 funeral/mortuary rites, which required formal singing. Readers can find this dealt with in some detail in my review of a CD by Coro Gabriel.
The important thing to remember is that Cantu á Tenores is secular sung dance-music, while Cuncordu is sacred ritual music. The former is performed by four singers who, for the most part, will have come together informally in the first instance to sing these songs within village social / feast / dance situations. The latter is also usually performed by four singers (though in this case there are five), who are normally members of a confraternite or ‘brotherhood’ which might have as many as 50 members. From these are selected the four singers whose voices most suit each other and the particular piece of music required by the ritual. If - as in Holy Week - more than one piece of music is required, the Coro will probably have different members for each piece. Thus, it’s unlikely to find the same singers performing (as on this CD) 13 sacred songs and 9 secular dance-songs. The booklet notes admit that it is unusual for one group to sing the entire polyvocal repertoire - but treat the phenomenon as one worthy of pride, rather than (as I would suggest) suspicion.
Tenore e Cuncordu de Orosei - from the town of Orosei on the Sardinian central east coast - comprises seven singers. Five sing in the Cuncordu, and the voche and mesuvoche (more usually called the boche and falzitu) from this group are joined by a bassu and a cronta (contra, or baritone) to create the Tenore group. I first encountered them on that essential CD of Sardinian singing, Polyphonies de Sardaigne (Chant du Monde LDX 274760), recorded by Bernard Lortat-Jacob in the late ’70s and early ‘80s. Tracks 4, 5, 6, and 7 of that record are from an earlier incarnation of the present group, though only one singer, Tore Mula, is common to both.
It’s as well that I did encounter them there (and the Coro tradition on its sister CD, Polyphonies de la Semaine Sainte LDX 274936), or I would be able to tell you precious little about the traditions which have generated and supported these wonderful musics. The current booklet contains nothing but the most insubstantial of generalised comments about the social situations in which this music works. Instead, most of the four pages are devoted to the sort of musicological mumbo-jumbo which you can find on far too many European records of ethnic music these days, and which is intended, I am firmly convinced, to obscure from the reader the one salient fact - that the writer knows next to nothing about his/her subject; namely, the performer and the music. Let me give you a taste of it:
The succinct musical observations may be useful for better understanding the value of the ‘su cuncordu’ expression, which is also used to name the group of choristers. Cuncordu originates from the Latin ‘concordia’ that refers to concepts of harmony, union. It also underlies the etymology of the word made up of Cun and Cor. Cor is the heart, which by extension refers to concepts of love and passion.We are not told whence Cun is derived - perhaps it’s a contraction of the appropriate term for the twat who wrote this drivel!
And finally, the actual singing is unusual too. It was all recorded in a Sardinian cathedral, and the huge natural echo, which may be OK for the sacred songs, sounds utterly inappropriate to the Tenores repertoire, usually heard in bars and village squares. I can’t say whether the ambience affected the way the group sang their songs, but they certainly sound much more like a Coro than like any other Tenores group I’ve ever heard (sound clip) - and quite unlike the earlier group which Lortat-Jacob recorded. In fact, the Tenores and the Cuncordu from Orosei sound like each other - which is unsurprising, since they have two common members and obviously work, travel and perform together.
So this is not a record of traditional Sard polyphony - if you want that, (and you should), get the Chant du Monde discs. But this is something unusual, unique probably - and very valuable it is too. Because, while this pair of CDs do not contain true traditional-style singing - as the booklet tries to convince you that they do - what they do contain is some truly wonderful human noise, which no one can possibly fail to enjoy. All seven of the singers are extremely good and their voices blend beautifully into incredibly tight and accurate harmonies. The harmonic 'fifth voice', the immaterial quintina, is fully in evidence.
I have heard far less traditional Coro singing than I would like, and so, perhaps, I enjoy the present offering more than I might if I’d had more experience of the traditional groups. Be that as it may, I really do like this Cuncordu from Orosei and their CD enormously and I can recommend it unreservedly to absolutely any reader or listener (sound clip). This despite some extremely strange, and completely unexplained, rhythmic noises beginning a couple of the tracks - don't ask, it's 'world music'!
The Tenores group is less successful, I think, but readers without experience of the real thing would undoubtedly find it wonderful. Truly, it is wonderful - but does lack that bite and passion which the traditional groups so often achieve.
When a society moves from the oral to the literate, it loses the ability to remember without written records; the arts of storytelling and ballad singing wither and die. As the world becomes more and more musically literate, and as the performer moves further away from his audience, are we beginning to lose from our music these vital elements - the things which cannot be written down in tablature?
Due to the lack of information accompanying this release, I can't tell you where to buy it in the UK, but anyone can get it via e-purchase from CDNow: http://www.cdnow.com
Rod Stradling - 25.5.99
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