I long ago gave up apologizing for being a sloppy romantic. At my age, I figure I’m entitled. I also have a tendency, when the lists of CDs available come out from GMR, to get a little crazy and go for something about which I know nothing. Sometimes I get burned, but more often than not, I’m delightfully surprised, or at least have a chance to learn something (hence my newfound expertise in Indian classical music — a lot of research and a lot of listening).
Qntal is one of the pleasant surprises. I knew nothing about the group when I saw the subtitle “Tristan und Isolde” on the list, but I figured, being a confirmed Wagner freak, that it should be interesting. It’s much better than that.
Qntal is, as of this writing, composed of Michael Popp (fidel, ud, saz, tar, and vocals), Philipp Groth (billed as “Fil” and responsible for keyboards, guitars and programming), and Syrah (Sigrid Hausen, vocals). They’ve been called an “electro-medieval” band and compared to Estampie, Dead Can Dance, and Loreena McKennit. Just the instruments they play should give you some idea of what to expect. “Qntal” itself is a nonsense word from one of Syrah’s dreams, in case you were wondering.
I can certainly see a likeness to Dead Can Dance, and even Enigma, but different, at least on this collection. The songs are all centered around the romance of Tristan and Isolde, with contributors is diverse as Gottfried von Strassburg, Walther von der Vogelweide, the Carmina Burana (the original manuscripts, not Carl Orff’s treatment), the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and of course, the ubiquitous “Anonymous.” The treatments range all the way from new age, world-beat, electronic syntheses to contemporary pop-rock. There are a few suitably abstract electronic passages, including one that I found initially puzzling (the beginning of the last track, “Verirret), which is essentially a minute or so of electronics followed by about two and a half minutes of silence, then more electronics, and even a little bit of singing — I think. It’s growing on me.
Although the collection gets off to a strong start with “Ówí, Tristan,” based on a text by Gottried von Strassburg with a heavily synthesized introduction, the show-stopper for me is, “Entre moi et mon amin” a seductively beautiful treatment of an anonymous German text. It has a haunting, lilting melody over a sensuously syncopated rhythm; Syrah’s vocals on this one reach some amazing peaks. “Name der Rose” is another one that just catches you up and pulls you along, on a text by Alanus von Lille, with an accompaniment somewhat reminiscent of the hotter dance songs from my party years. “Maiden in the Mor” is another beautiful song, soft, sensuous, with close harmonies and a mournful feel to it over a very tough rhythmic structure. Syrah, a classically trained singer, is fully up to the demands of the material, and the support from Groth and Popp is strong and deft.
Let’s face it — there’s nothing on this disc that I dislike. It becomes a matter of choosing which kind of chocolate I’m going to make myself sick on right now. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of Qntal’s music. In the meantime, I’m not letting this one out of my sight.
(Noir Records, 2004)