Maria Moramarco Stella Ariènte
Review by Chris Nickson
"Stella Ariènte" (excerpt)
Some music seems to arrive by stealth, made by someone entirely unknown who manages to beguile the ears and the heart. Stella Ariènte is one of those albums. It seems to exist out of time; the music could equally have appeared in the 16th century as the 21st and felt completely at home. This is religious singing, from the oral tradition of Alta Murgia in Bari, just above the heel of Italy. Moramarco, from a family of singers, seems to have been collecting songs since the 1970s. She appeared on a 2007 album with the group Uaragniaun, but this seems to be the first release under her own name.
"Ave Maria" (excerpt)
Quite sublime it is, too, musically hewing out a space between sacred and folk music, where late Renaissance music can mingle with hints of North Africa, all adding to the oral tradition that Moramarco so obviously reveres. The opening title track gives more than a hint at her aim, arriving in splendour. Harmonium, cumbus, and percussion create a stately musical ground that seems to float between Mediterranean Europe, Asian and North Africa, never quite settling anywhere. It’s only the vocals that root it in Italy, intense, dry, and sung with a gorgeous intensity. It’s a contrast to “Ave Maria Den Gran Lamento,” stripped to the limpid simplicity of piano and voice, although in the instrumental, they keyboard wanders off for a moment, nosing the melody into a place that’s somewhere between jazz and modern classic.
"Pane Nostro" (excerpt)
The whole album is a treasure trove of sweet, gentle surprises, like the duduk that arrives to lead the melody like a Pied Piper on “Pane Nostro,” or the delicious, lilting melody of “Antonje.” The almost medieval sparseness of nyckelharpas and precision provide perfectly sober decoration for the religious ache that’s “Li Ventiquattr’ore.”
On the closing track, “Serenata,” several of the elements come together on a piece that comes across like the kind of country dance that might easily have come directly from the late 1600s. Maybe the melody really did. But it’s a masterpiece of arrangement, like the rest of the disc, everything recorded with breath-taking clarity.
Yes, it’s strongly religious, but the manner of it all transcends church and services to find a spiritual core. And the praise for that lies with Moramarco herself. This is her project, her vision, and she’s shepherded it into the light with love and passion.