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CD Feature/ Ensemble Syntagma: "Remembrance"

img  Tobias

The fiercely fought debates on original practise and “the will of the composer” have often obscurred the fact that our knowledge is not so much enriched by the historical correctness of tiny details, but by a deeper understanding of general lines of development. Just like Science Fiction projects the sore spots of society to a point in the future, where they have ripened into conflict, the past that “Remembrance” is digging for, offers a message whose essence has not lost a drop of its relevance. 

Which is just a complicated way of saying that this album is both a serious, analytical effort and a lot of fun. Paying hommage to Mikhail Pletnev’s creed that any kind of music – even classical music, as the cynic might add – must have an immediate emotional effect or loose its relevance, “Remembrance” is a project born from a conceptual angle and realised in a spirit of personal dedication.

The factors of this dedication are plentiful. First off, there’s the family connection. Russian composer Alexandre Danilevski has invited Anna Danilevski on recorder, Sophia Danilevski (tromba marina) as well as Emilia Danilevski as a narrator on “Puis qu’il m’estuet de ma douleur”, further welding together the already extremely tight spirit of Syntagma: The sound of “Remembrance” is unified and coherent, with many different elements acting as one.

The second important aspect of the sessions was the will to open the windows of the monastery/Jesuit college where the CD was taped and allow some light in. When we caught Alexandre Danilevski in the middle of recording, he said: “There are good acoustics here! (...) The music is very good and is really up-to-date...” Even though the mysterious cover design and the sombre tone of many of the pieces included on the album seem to tell a different story, this collection of 12th and 13th century music is not depicting the middle ages as a forlorn era – but rather as a very human one.

This, in itself, is no revelation, of course. Other groups, the Capella Antiqua Bambergensis to name just one, have taken on the challenge of portraying the more lighthearted and optimistic side of a time obscurred by misunderstandings. But Syntagma do have something new to offer.

“Remembrance” is not built like a mere collection of loose ends, but really presents a tension arch embedded in a story-like aural architecture. Pieces by the all but forgotten Gautier d’Epinal are counterpointed by pieces from contemporaries, percussive tracks juxtaposed with almost rhythmless meditations. “Pas son dolz commandemant” is nothing but a drone and a melody, while the ornamented theme to “Aymans fins et verais” is suddenly supported by clicking percussion, drums and a passionately playing band.

Back in the Jesuite college, Danilevski cited from “Trop volontiers chanteroie” to demonstrate that “the feeling of a crisis is as old as the world”. Now the album has been completed, one could state with equal justification, that the same applies to any feeling at all. “Presumptousness and my foolish thoughts cause me to sing, and I do not know why, except that I have looked at her”, the lyrics of “Outrecuidiers et ma fole pensee” lament. Rock n Roll, it appears, started in 1300.

It goes without saying that there is a lot more which one could still say about “Remembrance”. Its sounds and extensive booklet essay definitely make one curious to find out more about Gautier d’Epinal, for example and many of the other composers who make their apperance over the course of these 63 minutes deserve our full attention. And yet, these are details. The general – and important - message is that Syntagma have recorded a mediaeval album that not only stimulates debate, but feels relevant to the time we live in.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ensemble Syntagma
Homepage: Challenge Classics

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