A Welcome Return

Featuring Cheryl Ann Fulton on harp, Kit Higginson on recorders and psaltery, Shira Kammen on viellem and Peter Maund on percussion, Ensemble Alcatraz has been on a recording hiatus for more than a decade, their last release dating back to 1990. Therefore, Cantigas de Amigo — an interpretation of songs from 13th-century Spain and Portugal that features the women's vocal ensemble Kitka — is a welcome return.

The ensemble performs with undeniable spirit, especially on Albaorada (RealAudio excerpt), on which Higginson's recorder technique is exquisite.

However, the real heart of the album is the seven selections from 13th-century composer Martin Codax. The members of Kitka add a wonderful buoyancy to the second of these selections, "Mandad' ei comigo" (RealAudio excerpt), a joyous celebration of a returning friend. The medieval harp ensemble Angelorum joins in on a number of these selections, lending their ethereal sound to the recordings. These pieces are the highlight of the album.

The album falters slightly in the absence of group interaction, especially on the lengthier solo songs at the beginning of the disc. "Enas verdes ervas" (RealAudio excerpt) is a beautiful song, for instance, but disrupts the flow of an album that focuses more on ensemble work.