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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Gaude Birgitta
Chants by Saint Bridget of Sweden

Latuit in blando; Rubens rosa; Gaude Birgitta; Rosa rorans bonitatem; Missus Gabriel; Caelestis erat curia; Maria, Maria; Sicut spinarum; O Birgitta; Videte miraculum; Benedictus sis tu dignissime; Tota pulcra es; Omnem potestatem; Annucietur; Eva mater; In hijs solemnijs; Trina celi;
Schola Gothia
Recorded in Vadsten Klosterkyrka Abbey Church, Sweden, October 2002
PROPRIUS PRCD 2026 [58.18]
Videte Miraculum
Medieval Chants from Naantali Convent in honour of Saint Bridget

Summe Trinitati; Te sanctum Dominum; Benedicta terra; Eva mater; Veni creator spiritus; Benedictus sis tu; Corrige virgo; Videte miraculum; Percinniter sit benedicta; Rogatus Deus rumpere; O virgo ; Beata es Virgo Maria; Gaudendum nobis est
Vox Silentii
Recorded at Naantali Church, Finland May 2002
PROPRIUS PRCD 2021 [63.16]

 

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Cantus Sororum
Medieval Chants from Naantali Convent in honour of Saint Bridget

Ave Maria; Rosa rorans bonitatem; Benedicta sis tu Maria; Sicut spinarum vicinitas; Multe tribulaciones; Benedicamus; Maria summe trinitatis; Magnificeture rex celestis; Stirps Jesse; Errorum pleno tenebris; Vidit virgo; Tremor terre; Salve Regina
Vox Silentii
Recorded at the Naantali Church, Finland, January 2001
PROPRIUS PRCD 2010 [48.58]


Now the first thing to say is that there are two St. Bridgets: of Ireland c.525 Feast day February 1st and this St. Bridget, of Sweden (1303-73) whose Feast day is July 23rd foundress and visionary, patron of Sweden. She founded a monastery in 1346 at Vadstena on Lake Vattern for sixty nuns and twenty-five monks who lived separately. In temporal matters the abbess was supreme; in spiritual ones the monks.

These three CDs (all available separately but grouped here for convenience) consist entirely of chant associated with the Swedish St. Bridget. To be precise they come from a collection she commissioned and contributed to, entitled ‘Cantus Sororum’. This book was essential to the life of the Convent for it contained chants for each morning service of the week. Not only did it contain chants but also readings and sermons - all for daily use. Hilkk-Liisa Vuori tells us in her booklet notes for CD3 that they consist of "Hymns, antiphons and responsories". All forms are represented here.

The Antiphons are songs "framed by recitation from the book of psalms which are sung after the bible reading". One, (‘Rosa rorans bonitatem’ on CD 1) is by Nils Hermansson, Bishop of Linkoping (died 1391). Some are by Magister Petrus, a colleague of St. Bridget. There are also sequences which belong to the Mass "and often consist of pairs of verses that are sung antiphonally. Normally these are performed on Major Feast days" (Alf Hardelin’s notes in booklet of CD1).

These pieces are all in praise of the virtues of the Virgin Mary whom Bridget revered.

"Each day had its own theme. Monday mornings reflected on Angelic choirs rejoicing in the Virgin, Tuesday, the focus was on patriarchs and prophets who foretold the birth of Mary. On Wednesday, the people rejoice in the immaculate conception of the virgin" etc (Hilkka-Liisa Vuori, a member of Vox Silentii, in notes on CD3).

It is a general misconception that most medieval music is polyphonic. Most certainly it was not. Here we have a lavish and vast collection of 14th Century music dating from a period when Machaut was writing his Mass and the ‘ars subtlior’ was taking hold, which has no polyphony at all but is simply chant. St. Bridget insisted that this music should be performed "in the spirit of prayer songs … a seamless entity in which the melody carries the text". Also with "a full heart and ardent desire, yet with humility". In my view this is very well achieved by both groups.

One hears on these CDs the chants performed, as the booklet says "in the same place in which they were sung by the Armolaakso (Valley of Grace) sisters in the Middle Ages. It is enchanting to think that the church must have sounded almost exactly the same (for the recording) as it did in the 15th Century." (Notes in CD2).

For my taste the three singers of Vox Silentii are recorded too closely. Although the building still has a part to play and the clarity of the text is superb, there is an over-pronunciation of certain consonants, like Ls and Ss which is rather annoying. Nevertheless the atmosphere the singers create seems to be ideal for the exigencies of Bridgettine early morning services.

Schola Gothia consists of four voices. They are gentler with consonants and are given more space around them. They also move the chant along more quickly which is preferable. There is less silence between phrases. Their approach one might say is more conventional. Vox Silentii has a more meditative approach certainly; their renditions, however, appear more uneven and sometimes disjointed. Schola Gothia, it seems to me, are preferable for more day to day listening. Also they vary the dynamics with more regularity. Thinking liturgically these points do not necessarily matter, but Schola Gothia is better able to keep my attention. This is particularly noticeable in the two renderings of ‘Videte Miraculum’. Vox Silentii are slower, freer and more relaxed but the lines do not flow easily into each other. Schola Gothia makes more sense of the overall structure of the chant.

Vox Silentii use solo lines from time to time. Also occasionally they have added drones (not actually approved by St. Bridget) as in the opening Ave Maria (CD3). This gives textural variety for which I, for one, was grateful.

You might feel that you know some of the melodies. For example ‘Rogatus Deus compere’ (a hymn in honour of the birth of Jesus) is mainly known as the holy week chant ‘Vexilla Regis’. This is also a piece in which a drone is used, mostly under the melody but also, particularly beautifully, in the upper voice, gently holding a note as it emerges from the chant. The ‘Salve Regina’ which ends CD 3 is a version of the standard chant by the 8th Century monk, Adnemar. It is in the collection because it is appropriate to the idea of the compassion of the Virgin towards mankind in the birth of Christ. Therefore both of these chants are suitable for the theme of Thursday’s prayers in which the nuns gave thanks for the birth of Christ.

‘Rubens Rosa’ and ‘Errorum pleno tenebrus 'may be recognized more as the evening chant ‘Christe qui lux’. The latter reminds us that at the birth of Mary "a light emerges from the womb of her mother." This is therefore a suitable prayer for the Wednesday morning service.

If only one CD is possible then I would chose Schola Gothia but there is a down-side of course.

There is a helpful translated essay and a coloured photograph of the manuscript. The texts are given in Latin but translated only into Swedish. Vox Silentii supply some even more interesting essays and have the Latin texts translated into English. Considering that these three CDs come from the same company this shows a curious inconsistency on their behalf.

However for any lover of early chant at least one of these discs would make a wonderful Christmas present.

Gary Higginson



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