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Recordings: Alla Breve

January 10, 1988|ALLAN ULRICH

ALFONSO X: "CANTIGAS DE SANTA MARIA." Martin Best Ensemble. Nimbus NI-5081 (compact disc). In this immaculately engineered disc, Best's group evokes both the grandeur and wit of the 13th-Century Castilian court of King Alfonso the Learned. The record collects 22 of the 400 extant songs in praise of St. Mary. The texts mingle outright devotion with surprisingly earthy anecdotes, all divided into a spoken refrain and sung verse. The musicians (eight singers, five instrumentalists) lend Best's sequence immense dedication and an intense rhythmic foundation within a flattering acoustic. But why didn't Nimbus print the original Galician texts as well as the translations?

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