LIKE 1219, the 10 selections constituting John Zorn’s suite for three acoustic guitars Nove Cantici per Francesco d’Assisi (Tzadik) were inspired by the poor man of Assisi. Unlike 1219, they focus not on a specific Franciscan episode but on highlights from throughout the course of Francis’ life and thought.
The pieces owe their genesis to Zorn’s 2018 residency at New York City’s Frick museum and contain no lyrics, so the titles do much of the heavy lifting. The 3½-minute “Fioretti,” for instance, refers to the collection of Franciscan legends known in English as The Little Flowers, the seven-minute “Meditations” to Giovanni Bellini’s painting Saint Francis in the Desert (which also provides the cover art).
The heaviest lifting, however, is done by the guitarists Julian Lage, Gyan Riley, and Bill Frisell, whose intricate and tensile interactions make the lifting seem light.
They’re at their lightest on “Poor Clares,” the title of which alludes to the order of contemplative nuns founded by Francis’ best-known female disciple and the melody and lilt of which escort the spirit of not only the Clares but also Erik Satie (in his Gymnopédie mode) into the 21st century.
LONG BEFORE ZORN took up the Franciscan theme, Hartmann von An der Lan-Hochbrunn—a Franciscan monk, composer, and organist better known as Father Hartmann—delivered the oratorio San Francesco. It’s a too-little-known work whose 1998 live recording by Sylvia Rieser, Barbara Hölz, Frieder Lang, Vito Maria Brunetti, and the Haydn Orchestra has just been reissued by Nar Classical in a budget-priced, MP3-only edition.
Reviewing a 1902 performance of San Francesco, the critic Eduard Hanslick called it a “clean, pleasant, and uncomplicated” work that, along with Hartmann’s other oratorios, he had “learned to appreciate with genuine delight.” Faint though such praise may seem, coming from Hanslick, who did not hand out encomiums lightly, it meant something.
And now, with the Haydn Orchestra’s stately performance back in circulation, anyone with $5.99 can find out what that genuinely delightful something was.