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Celestial Light
Hildegard VON BINGEN (1098-1179) O lucidissima [5:43]
Notre Dame responsory, (13th century) Novi sideris Lumen respenduit [3:42]
Hildegard VON BINGEN O cruor sanguinis [1:39]
Notre Dame responsory, (13th century) Deus misertus hominis [5:12]
Hildegard VON BINGEN O tu illustrate [6:34]
Notre Dame responsory, (13th century) Flos ut rosa floruit [2:27]
Hildegard VON BINGEN O viridissima virga [4:13]
Robert KYR (b. 1952) From the Circling Wheel (Texts by Hildegard von Bingen)
I. Song to the Creator (O verbum Patris) [5:56]
II Song of the Virgin to her Son (Oflli dilectissime) [5:17]
III Song to the Virgin (O Magna res) [4:53]
Hildegard VON BINGEN Nunc gaudeant [2:47]
Hildegard VON BINGEN O eterne deus [2:40]
Huelgas MSS, (13th century) Ave Maris stella [4:41]
Hildegard VON BINGEN O nobilissima viriditas [6:53]
Laurie Monahan (mezzo); Cristi Catt (soprano); Sandra Morales-Ramirez (mezzo); Daniela Tosic (alto); Robert Kyr (hurdy-gurdy)
rec. Studio A, National Music Foundation, Lenox, Massachusetts, 28-31 May 1997
TELARC CD 80456 [63.17]

An excellent disc from Telarc, featuring the mediaeval and contemporary music specialist group, Tapestry. The disc focuses on the great visionary and mystic poet and composer, Hildegard von Bingen. It aims to present her and her works in context – hence we are here presented with several songs from her Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, whose monody is interspersed, and thus contrasted, with thirteenth century works of French-style polyphony, and a cycle of motets using words by Bingen by the contemporary composer Robert Kyr. The theme is light – Bingen’s visions often took the form of heavenly light that imparted its divine inspiration to her, and that she considered, and wrote of, as almost a spiritual force in and of itself. As Bingen had no formal training in music or poetry, her work is delightfully free from the constraints that bound most composers and writers. Her poetry is rich in imagery, and her music focuses heavily on the words, as a vessel to express them, taking its rhythms from them rather than from a fixed beat.

The disc opens with O lucidissima, a gorgeously other-worldly responsory by Bingen, luminous, with effortlessly floating voicelines. Clarity, intensity and intelligence shine through the music and enable the listener to agree with Bingen’s own conviction that her inspiration was divinely derived. This is followed by the beautiful and lilting Novi sideris Lumen respenduit. The next thirteenth century Notre Dame responsory Deus misertus hominis is extremely impressive - really haunting, with dissonances that almost make one’s hair stand on end, and enters a sound-world curiously similar to Tavener or Arvo Part. This is followed by the almost disconcertingly high O tu illustrate (it spans two and half octaves) – the later Nunc gaudeant is similarly high, demonstrating the incredible range in pitch that Bingen employs. Soprano Cristi Catt copes extremely well with these upper notes, although her voice, already a little more robust and harsher in timbre than her colleagues’, becomes slightly rougher still with these challenging notes.

Three tracks of the disc are given over to From the Circling Wheel, Kyr’s cycle of motets about creation. The first presents the words of God the creator as a turning wheel, and has the same verse repeated several times, the music growing in complexity and dissonance. The second portrays Mary addressing her son on the cross, and the final piece is a hymn to Mary, whose sacrifice is viewed as a creative force. Although this work is not in the least offensive per se, it did slightly detract from the enjoyment of the disc for me. It is too much of a contrast, too much of a jump in time from the beautiful purity of the older works.

On the whole, however, this is a fascinating, well-compiled and well-performed disc. Tapestry work well as an ensemble – their voices vigorous and clear, yet sweet in tone in the ensemble numbers. One of the main messages that the performers impart to the listener is that of sincerity, in the words, the music and the music-making – something of which Bingen would, I’m sure, approve.

Em Marshall


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