Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cantica Symphonia @ the Batha Museum

This afternoon’s performance by the Cantica Symphonia was an uplifting experience, with wonderful polyphonic harmonies that hung suspended in the air under the cathedral-like dome of the ancient tree at Batha Museum.However, as it was explained to the audience during the concert, the music is designed to be heard and sung in a real church, rather than a natural one, and the acoustics of the garden setting are completely different. The wind blowing the sheet music across the stage was certainly an element that the musicians weren’t used to! Vanessa Bonnin and Sandy McCutcheon report.

 Giuseppe Maletto conducting Cantica Symphonia

Cantica Symphonia

Since 1995 Cantica Symphonia has dedicated itself to the recovery and performance of medieval and renaissance polyphony. Founded by Giuseppe Maletto and Svetlana Fomina, the group is now one of the most highly regarded interpreters in its field.

Cantica Symphonia’s unique style, fruit of intensive analysis of original sources, is characterised by an ability to bring out the structural and expressive richness of its repertoire. The group’s approach is one of particular care and attention to the interaction between voices and instruments, consolidating the collective experience of its members who individually collaborate with the most highly affirmed groups of today’s international Early Music scene.

The fulcrum of the group’s activity has always been the music of Guillaume Dufay, the first great musician of the “modern” era whose works enlightened his times and guided western music through the travailed passage from medieval to renaissance.

The music of Guillaume Dufay


In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice (monophony) or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords (homophony).

Traditional polyphony has a wide, if uneven distribution among the peoples of the world. Most polyphonic regions of the world are sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Oceania. It is believed that origins of polyphony in traditional music vastly predates the emergence of polyphony in European music.

European polyphony rose out of melismatic organum, the earliest harmonisation of the chant. Twelfth century composers, such as Léonin and Pérotin developed the organum that was introduced centuries earlier, and also added a third and fourth voice to the chant.

This concert was presented in collaboration with the MITO Settembre Musica.


The seven members of the Cantica Symphonia were given a warm reception at the Batha Museum. The line-up of two male voices and one female were supported by two trombones, a vielle and a "positive" organ. The vielle, played by the ensemble's co-founder, Svetlana Fomina,  is a European bowed stringed instrument used in the Medieval period, similar to a modern violin but with a somewhat longer and deeper body, five (rather than four) gut strings, and a leaf-shaped pegbox with frontal tuning pegs.

 The vielle 

The instrument was also known as a fidel or a viuola, although the French name for the instrument, vielle, is generally used. It was one of the most popular instruments of the Medieval period, and was used by troubadours and jongleurs from the 13th through the 15th centuries.

The vielle possibly derived from the lira, a Byzantine bowed instrument closely related to the rebab, an Arab bowed instrument, has a deeper and lustrous sound than its cousin the violin.

The portable "positive" organ is of a type common in sacred and secular music between the 10th and the 18th centuries, in chapels and small churches, as a chamber organ and for the basso continuo in ensemble works.

The ensemble, lead by Giuseppe Maletto, lived up to their reputation for finely nuanced performance. Two sections of a rarely performed Missa - the Kyrie eleison and the Gloria - opened the concert and left the audience in no doubt that they were at a spiritual music festival.

As the concert progressed into the realms of polyphony, the vocal work was superb. The soprano's voice, sometimes soaring like a bird, at other times fluttering gracefully from note to note on the breeze. Richly textured; this was sweet and delicate music. Always vibrant, yet, at times so soft as it lingered on the edge of hearing before vanishing into the realms of memory. In the quiet moments the singers were accompanied by the singing of birds from the Barbary Oak.

The last piece they performed was written for the consecration of the cathedral in Florence, Italy. The voices are meant to echo and respond. The audience was asked to try and imagine how it would sound in a great cathedral – but to help achieve the echoing effect, the two trombonists were positioned behind the audience.

The audience were content to let the music wash over them

Regular festival attendee Lynn Evans Davidson from Cornwall said the music was transcendental.
“I felt my whole body melting and drifting up,” she said. “I was also thinking that on this same stage we’ve had Sufism, yesterday’s wonderful music from India and now this ancient European music, and each of them has it’s own fashion of reaching you. This music brings peace of heart, whereas the Hamdushiyya was a swelling of the heart and a connection and sharing of the experience, and the Rajasthani music was just pure joy!”

One factor the musicians had never experienced was the commencement of the call to prayer. The fusion of Muslim and Christian religious songs was an interesting interlude that broke the serious tone of the afternoon when the perplexed musicians started laughing, along with the audience.

A beautiful concert.

Happy with the reception - Francesca Cassinari - soprano

Text: Sandy McCutcheon and Vanessa Bonnin 
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon and Vanessa Bonnin


Festival Programme
Festival in the City
Sufi Nights
Festival Forums
Festival Eating Guide
Art during the Festival #1
Art during the Festival #2
The Enchanted Gardens of Fez
Last Minute Accommodation


No comments: