This double album, presented with a massive hardback tome, seems at first glance to be incredibly obscure. Ramon Llull (say YOO-ee and you'll be in the ballpark), who lived from 1232 to 1316, is known, if at all, as the first significant writer in the Catalan language. He was not a composer, but a philosopher, poet, and Franciscan friar. But as usual, Savall turns his gaze not toward minutiae, but outward toward vast social and political trends, and Llull's life and work turn out to be ideally suited for this purpose. He was a world traveler, venturing as far as Armenia, and his life reflected the religious, military, and political tensions of Golden Age Spain. The program begins before Llull's birth, with a musical depiction of Muslim-ruled Majorca, and ends after his death, with pieces reflecting the development of the ideas he set in motion. Along the way are pieces of music, polyphonic and monophonic, setting texts by Llull, musically accompanied narrations of excerpts from his longer texts, and finally pieces reflecting the various surroundings in which he worked and lived: pieces, one might say, that he did not write but could have. This is an extraordinary combination that is not only relevant to the figure at hand but may be regarded as exemplary in bringing to life music that exists at such a great remove of time and space from our own. Even more than other Savall releases, this is one that requires a bit of delving into the booklet -- in six languages -- in order to understand why the pieces have been chosen and ordered as they are. The listener who does so, however, will be rewarded with a document of rare historical immediacy and power. Bravo!
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