The Renaissance Players’ latest double CD, Pilgrimage to Montserrat, is a welcome opportunity for 21st century listeners to hear a richly varied, yet stylistically true reconstruction of the songs that medieval pilgrims may have played to each other en route to discover the miracles of Montserrat.
Pilgrimage to Montserrat, music from the Iberian Peninsula, brings Winsome Evans, BEM, OAM, the director of the Renaissance Players, even closer to completing her many years of passionate research and her quest to record as much Mediterranean medieval culture as possible.
The double CD contains 18 sacred dance-songs, including the ten surviving pilgrim songs, cants del romeus, from the Llibre Vermell (the Red Book), a codex from the library of the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin at Montserrat in Catalonia. The codex today contains only 137 sheets of what is believed to have once been 172 sheets, indicating there may have been an even greater number of pilgrim songs.
In dedication to the late acclaimed Australian filmmaker, Robin Anderson (1950-2002), two of the additional 8 pieces are reworkings of the text and music of the liturgical drama from Beauvais – Ludus Danielis (The Play of Daniel). The first version of Vale Robin Anderson – Ad honorem tui Christe was performed in 2002 at the Renaissance Players 27th Runnymede Pop Festival at St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney. Robin Anderson’s prizewinning last documentary, Facing the Music, released in 2001, focused on the dramatic financial struggles inside the halls of Sydney University’s Music Department, birthplace of the Renaissance Players and professional teaching, composition, performance and research headquarters for (now) Honorary Associate Professor Winsome Evans for more than 50 years.
Winsome Evans herself – performer, director, scholar, composer, teacher, harpsichordist and founder of the Renaissance Players in Sydney 48 years ago – researched and wrote the 40-page CD booklet “thesis” which provides comprehensive explanations and translations of the structure and text of each song, together with extensive historical notes on sacred Spanish dance and the pilgrims to Montserrat. Showcasing her talent as a multi-instrumentalist on over 30 instruments, she performs on a variety of different instruments on all tracks.
Colleagues from Winsome’s extensive personal and artistic network have collaborated on the CD. The cover is designed by Nick Stathopoulos, a regular Archibald Prize contributor, and selected artist in this year’s Salon des Refuses; Joseph Toltz, former Cantor at Temple Emanuel, Woollahra features as a tenor.
The Renaissance Players, an accomplished and widely respected early music group in Australia, has a nucleus of around ten singers and instrumentalists, which changes, according to the needs of each particular performance. To add to their reputation for musical style, colourful costuming, technical ability and vibrant presentations, their performances often feature a poetry reader and a miming clown.
The Renaissance Players don’t limit their repertoire to the Renaissance period, but perform a wide range of music dating from as early as the 9th century through to contemporary folk/rock and classical styles, using replicas of ethnic instruments and authentic ones where possible, attempting to reproduce and give new birth (re-naissance) to performance styles appropriate to the music being played. The Renaissance Players regularly perform concerts, provide music for feature films and have released over 25 recordings internationally.
A taste of the songs from Pilgrimage to Montserrat will be played at The Renaissance Players forthcoming concert Gazpacho Andaluz.
Pilgrimage to Montserrat is available on iTunes and can be purchased at major CD retailers, including Fish Fine Music, Leichhardt and QVB, or buy online at www.tallpoppies.net ($36 + postage/gst).