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Gregorian Chant
Kunigunde: Nova Historia
Schola Bamberg/Werner Pees
Recorded 10-11 November 2003, Studio Cavalli-Records, Bamberg


Antiphon I (Laudabile nomen domini) and Psalm 109 (Dixit Dominus)
Antiphon II (Viniculum cast dilectionis) and Psalm 112 (Laudate pueri)
Antiphon III (Integratis eius) and Psalm 121 (Laetatus sum)
Antiphon IV (Itaque gloria) and Psalm 126 (Nisi Dominus)
Antiphon V (Tandem rex) and Psalm 147 (Lauda Hierusalem)
Responsorium (O Regina Predicanda)
Hymnus (Jesus corona virginum)
Antiphon (Magnificet te domine) and Magnificat
First Nocturne

Antiphon I (Beata Kunedundis) and Psalm 8 (Domine, Dominus noster)
Antiphon II (Lege domini) and Psalm 18 (Celi ennarant gloriam Dei)
Antiphon II (Innocens minibus) and Psalm 23 (Domini est terra)
Lectio I and Responsorium (Virgo mire castitatis)
Lectio II and Responsorium (Liberorum succesionem)
Lectio III and Responsorium (Notat est igitur)
Second Nocturne

Antiphon I (Regina quondam terrestris) and Psalm 44 (Eructavit cor meum)
Antiphon II (In tribulcionibus eius) and Psalm 45 (Deus noster refugium)
Antiphon III (Fundamenda) and Psalm 86 (Fundamenta eius)
Lectio I and Responsorium (Pro fama ero conversacionis)
Lectio II and Responsorium (Cumque deo dilecta)
Lectio III and Responsorium (Dixit autem virgo pura)

The historical Kunigonde was the wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II (crowned in 1014). She died in 1033. Henry II was canonised in 1146 and Kunigonde in 1200. One of the popular legends about her was the story that, to prove that she was innocent of adultery she walked bare-foot over glowing ploughshares; her survival was testament to her innocence.

Both Kunigonde and Henry were buried in Bamberg Cathedral and this became a centre for their veneration. Two days were sacred to Kunigonde, the day of her death (March 3rd) and the day her remains were brought to Bamberg (September 9th). On both these days a "historia propia" was sung from a book of hours devoted to the Saint. At the end of the 13th century, a new manuscript was produced for use at services with newly composed chants. This manuscript still survives and is the basis for the music in this recording.

The music is still Gregorian chant, but chant which takes account of musical developments happening in the world, notably at Notre-Dame de Paris where polyphony was being performed. The full office would take around four hours to sing, so for this disc the performers have selected just three services, the first Vespers and the first two Nocturnes of the night time service, Matins. The text of the individual items in the services – the antiphons, lessons and responsories – all narrate elements from Kunigonde’s story.

Each Nocturne begins with the recitation of three psalms, each psalm being framed at the beginning and end with a short antiphon. The psalms are then followed by readings from the life of the saint, each reading being followed by a responsory which is a musically more elaborate composition, consisting of a chorus and middle section sung by one or more soloists and then the repeat of the middle section. This more complex music acts as a fine foil for the simplicity (almost monotony) of the readings; a monotony necessary so that the message of the reading can be apprehended by the listeners.

The Vespers service is more complex and opens with a short incipit and then a sequence of five psalms - Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109), Laudate pueri (Psalm 112), Laetatus sum (Psalm 121), Nisi Dominius (Psalm 126), Lauda Hierusalem (Psalm 1476) - and their antiphons, followed by a responsory and a hymn, Jesu Corona Virginum; Kunigonde was classified as a Virgin in the medieval period. Then finally comes the Magnificat with its antiphon. The disc begins and ends atmospherically with the chiming of the Kunigonde bell from Bamberg Cathedral, a bell which dates from the 12th century.

Schola Bamberg are a group of seven singers who, in addition to the regular professional singing life, come together to perform music associated with Bamberg. Their first recording was of the music for the coronation service of Henry II. They are directed by their founder, Werner Pees, who is the musical director of Bamberg Cathedral.

I enjoyed this disc immensely. The group sing with a naturalness and flexibility which implies a high degree of familiarity and they make a good uniform sound. The various solo passages are taken by a variety of uncredited members of the group; not all have an ideal vocal timbre for the music, but all sing with clarity and with admirable attention to the text. There were just a couple of moments when I thought that a little extra session time might have not come amiss.

They are recorded cleanly with just a little ambient reverberation. Reading the booklet, you learn that the recording was made in a studio, so presumably this reverberation is added. It is a shame that the recording could not have been made in a cathedral or some other suitable location. But this is my only complaint.

The singers sing the Latin with a Germanic pronunciation, as is right. There has been no attempt to recreate forgotten musical practices; the chant is sung in a fine, straightforward way. So the disc forms an ideal introduction to the vast array of offices written for the rich variety of medieval saints.

Robert Hugill

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