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SIG 043
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SIG 043

Temple of Chastity - Music from 13th century Spain

The Classical Shop
release date: July 2007

Originally recorded in 2007


Mille Fleurs


St Silas The Martyr, Kentish Town, London

3-6 Sept 2002


Tony Harrison


Limo Hearn

Record Label


Early Music

Vocal & Song

Total Time - 59:35
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  Codex Las Huelgas - Music from 13th century Spain  



Virgines egregie

  JC, HG, BS, JW  

Salve, sancta parens / Salve, porta regis / Slave, salus gencium

  JC, HG, BS  

Surrexit de tumulo

  JC, HG, JW  

Rosa das rosas (cantiga)

  BS, JW, (JC, HG)  

Castitatis thalamum

  JC, HG, BS, JW  

Benedicamus benigno voto

  HG, BS  

Catholicorum concio


Alpha bovi et leoni

  JC, JW  

Veni, redemptor gencium

  HG, (JC)  

Audi pontus, audi tellus

  JC, HG, BS  

Improvisation on Audi pontus

  BS, (JC)  

Salve regina glorie

  JC, HG, BS, JW  

Gaude, virgo, plena Deo

  JC, HG, BS  

Alpha bovi et leoni

  JC, HG, BS  

Vella e mininna (cantiga)

  JC, JW, (HG, BS)  

Confessorum agonia

  JW, JC, BS  

Ex illustri nata prosapia

  JC, HG, BS  

Parit preter morem

  JC, HG, BS, JW  

Castrum pudicicie / Virgo viget melius

  JC, BS, JW  

Como poden per sas culpas (cantiga)


O Maria, virgo regia / Organica cantica

  JC, HG, BS  

Maria, virgo virginum

  JC (HG, BS)  

Mille Fleurs’ debut recording for Signum Records is devoted to one of the treasured manuscripts of early music, the Codex Las Huelgas.

This impressively large manuscript contains 170 parchment folios of works from the 13th and early 14th centuries. It was discovered by two monks early in the last century in the royal convent of Las Huelgas outside Burgos, Spain. It is unusual in several ways, encompassing a wide range of musical forms and styles, and being highly organised according to genre, liturgical function and number of voices.

The codex reflects the devotional practices of a medieval Cistercian monastery, but it wasn’t designed as a luxury object, rather, a pragmatic tool to be used as a source of reference or perhaps even for actual performance. This is an especially intriguing manuscript for music historians, performers and listeners alike.

The pieces contained in the Las Huelgas manuscript reflect a wide range of Latin-texted music between 1200 and the first half of the 14th century. French influence is strong, illustrating the repertory as both international and local, imported, and adapted in a continual process of absorption and reinvention.

Mille Fleurs bring a wealth of experience and research to these performances. Some pieces are performed as written; in others the notation provides a starting-point for musical elaboration. These charismatic singers do not believe female early music vocalists should sound like modern choirboys, but instead celebrate their different vocal timbres with each voice’s natural personality shining through.

Just as the manuscript is pragmatic and adaptable as regards the notation of its musical repertory, so the performance approaches adopted and realised on this recording offer variety and flexibility, always respecting the nature of the piece.

One thing is clear: throughout the Middle Ages the walls of the monastery of Las Huelgas resounded to the most highly refined and eloquently beautiful musical settings then in circulation in northern Spain.

"The Las Huelgas Codex is one of those fascinating Medieval mysteries whose origins are a source of constant speculation for scholars. Who made the manuscript? Why? And most of all, who performed the music that it contains? But even though it would  be marvellous to know the answers to these questions, on another level one hopes that the manuscript  will never give up its secrets because as it stands now it is open to many kinds of musical interpretation.

There are however limits to what the listener will tolerate and I take issue with overbearing use of instrumental accompaniment (and added vocal harmonies), such as those heard on this disc and many other recordings of this repertoire. Given that the Las Huelgas manuscript was made fo liturgical use in a convent, the addition of harp, shawm, sinfonye and drums is highly dubious, and I wonder what the point is. For the music is certainly not dull in its unadorned state - as proven by Mille Fleurs’ vibrant versions of the motets Salve, porta regis and O Maria virgo regia and the conductus Alpha bovi et leoni. Although Tess Knighton in her insert note excuses the variety of performance styles here as reflecting the variety of the manuscript itself - and Mille Fleurs picks out a good selection of pieces - I don’t see why the music cannot speak for itself instead of being turned into "Medieval music-lite". (The use of instruments is much easier to justify in vernacular music such as the three cantigas included on this disc, though Mille Fleurs interpretations are a bit too folksy for my taste.)

Instruments aside, the performance style here is in keeping with the raw sound preferred on other south-European Medieval music. Not all members of the group can carry off the technique however, and the strain shows in the sinking pitch heard on some tracks, worst off all Veni, redemptor gencium. But the group sings with commitment and understanding of the text, and the instruments (whatever one thinks of their inclusion) are well played. I would single out for attention an excellent solo shawm improvisation on the conductus Audi pontus.

Taken at face value, this is a good recording that that adds to the Las Huelgas discography (the sheer size of the manuscript means that its repertoire is far from exhausted). But there is definitely some room on the market for serious a capella exploration of its contents, and this would come at the top of my wish-list for a new disc of this wonderful music."

Alison Bullock

International Record Review - March 2004

"Mille Fleurs make their debut recording with this collection of music from the Las Huelgas Codex, and a very auspicious début it is. You’ll know from the first few minutes whether this is for you: the percussion, hurdy-gurdy and folk-influenced  vocal production in Virgines egregie set the tone for the whole disc. That said, however, the recording is full of variety, both in vocal style and instrumentation and in conceptual approach and the performances are the epitome of sophisticated smoothness. Rosa das rosas certainly one of the loveliest of the Cantigas de Sancta Maria, achieves something else again, exploiting Belinda Sykes in full eastern vocal style, "backing vocals" from from her colleagues and flowing harp accompaniment by Jan Walters. There’s also improvisation, in the form of Belinda Sykes’ effective hurdy-gurdy treatment of Audi Pontus and Jan Walters contributes a very beautiful version of Como poden per sas culpas.

Just occasionally one feels that things have got a little out of hand - Salve regina glorie, for example moves from a riotously enthusiastic opening to a somewhat wayward ending - and that sometimes tuning is compromised for colouristic reasons. These are minor reservations however. The recording impresses by its freshness and vigour, and by the excitement the singers clearly find in this fascinating repertoire. Anyone who found Maria Kiek singing the Martin Codex (Hyperion 6/88) a revelation will respond to this collection: otherwise, there are anthologies available - by Alia Musica (Harmonia Mundi). for example - which take different approaches, as well as the classic recording by Sequentia, urgently in need of reissue. It is worth noting, however, that all these collections vary greatly in their contents, so none can be considered a genuine rival to this new recording."

Ivan Moody

Gramophone - April 2004

"Despite the heavy drumming on track 1, I’ve really enjoyed this. The varied styles included in this unusual MS (an international repertoire copied at a rich Spanish convent) are characterised by the carefully calculated approach to each piece. The music is religious, but it is presented as it might have been performed for the entertainment of the nuns. The stylish presence of the harp is a bonus, worth having for its own sake, not just to avoid the possibility of the boredom that some small female groups induce. There is no chance of that here anyway; the trio does not fall into the trap of letting sheer beauty of sound get in the way of the individuality of the music. (Yes, that really is a compliment!) The performances have a freedom which is refreshing as well as plausible. Highly recommended."

Clifford Bartlett

Early Music Review - February 2004

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