Saturday, 6 May 2017

Ninna Nanna - Montserrat Figueras


In memoriam M. F.






This time let us begin with the cover. It was not clear at the first sight what this picture was doing on the record cover instead of those Renaissance paintings that AliaVox usually uses. 
Well, this time it is Picasso, the genius of the Avantgarde. These are more well-known:


And Guernica, obviously.


But he also had a Blue Period between 1901 and 1904, the name of the town is Barcelona and so it becomes evident now that Savall and Cardona, where the records are being made is about 50 kms to the north from here – the pieces have been put together by now.


Ninna Nanna: ninna is sleeping, nanna is dream and vice versa, thus the two make lullaby together, in all languages of the Mediterranean. There are lullabies on the record, although this definition is a bit rough here. The time periods the songs are from show a big diversity ranging from early Renaissance to Arvo Part; from 1500 to 2002.


There are a few real lullaby-like songs, but, in addition, there is some Sephardic melody from early 16th century Morocco with a more complicated inside structure, and there is also some traditional Arabic music with oriental ornamentation. Obviously, there is a Catalan song, too, as well as the famous Hor c'he tempo di domine by van Merula, which is based on the ostinato of an old lullaby melody with seriously spiritual content. The 1500s of Byrd’s England flares up together with a Mussorgsky song and a piece of Max Reger from the beginning of the century. The instrumental accompaniment is thus very colourful ranging from an Arabic laud to a great black piano with Savall’s gamba often making an appearance.


So far there seems to be a big and confused mess.


But after listening to it, this feeling is gone. The reason is that there are two strong ties that hold this record together. The first one is the magic that is seeping from lullabies bit by bit; that deeply hidden primeval, intimate part of human communication; no matter where we move the melody, it is always audible.

The other point is the voice of Montserrat Figueras, which may constitute a whole new chapter in the history of soprano singing. Each song is very unique, but the storage space of this blog would not be enough for describing them all, so let us see one in more detail, which is track No. 8.


Mareta – a simple title, a name; the place is old Valencia, more precisely Alicante, and the composer was unknown already at the time of its first record.


The beginning – a bell jingling softly in the background. There is an enormous difference between the sound systems already here in the first three seconds. There is an iron bell, a silver bell, there is one that is almost not there at all, and there is another one that makes you think that somebody must be playing a trick on you in the room. A fine string begins to play, there is the slight noise of a slide on the strings at chord changes, it is all very much alive.
And then singing starts: mother and daughter.



Montserrat and Arianna Savall together, an amazing duet; one outshines the other. The melody is not complicated, it is especially beautiful, full of third and quint steps, very much harmonious. First Arianna sings a verse with nice well-trained voice, which is colourful enough and very accurate; fortunately, quite many examples of singing at such high quality can we encounter these days.

Then begins Montserrat… and some miracle is in the air here. A fantastically robust black voice coming from the deep, full of vocal highlights already at the start, with a curious hhhhhh overtone that turns our legs feeble: it is a perfectly and heavenly clear voice with such an intense glow that it is literally luminous … once on a concert somebody whispered that angels had descended – this is a true feeling here. 


Now the sound gets unleashed; it is so dynamic that the transistors flare up, the speakers overstep the upper limit of their capacity, which is in the language of aviation compressor rev 115%, electricity is noticeably sucked out of the sockets, street lights blink, the metro line No. 4 slows down a bit, the tram on the boulevard suddenly stops for a sec.


Because the turbines in Paks [Hungarian nuclear power station] drag due to the immense overcharge, hot steam has to be let out instantly, the emergency circle almost switches on …hot phonecalls to Russia then several reports to IAEA in Wienna….and it is merely a soprano …


When it ends, we stand up feeling numb all over.



No chance to go to sleep now, instead, we recall an old folk song from Szék, Transylvania, which reads:

The sky opened up in three…




You should look out, it is worthwhile.






2016. Nov. 22.




Translated: Sebestyén Rita









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Last year in November I just finished the original version of this article (see) and wanted to search after one more image of Montserrat Figueras before activating  the blog. Google showed me a small box the basic data inside -  I realized what date was that Wednesday -  a day before she had gone. 
I will never forget this unwanted coincidence.

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Thank you for the images. 
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