The identity of Anna Hachenberch, who, according to the manuscript
in the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne, compiled this collection
of chants magno cum labore (with great diligence) in
the early years of the Sixteenth Century, is unknown. She seems,
however, to have had a close connection with the Augustinian
sisters who were based in St Cecilia’s – where the Museum is
now housed. Nor do we know whether scripsit ac notavit
(wrote and notated) means that she composed some of the chants
or merely copied them.
The scholarly interest of this recording is undeniable, but
its value for and power to entertain the non-specialist remains
an open question. As if to address themselves to that issue,
Candens Lilium have interspersed the chant with instrumental
items from Josquin and Brumel, and from the Buxheim Organ Book.
Though these are from the same period that the antiphonary was
written, they are different in style from the very conservative
chant on the other tracks.
In fact the vocal music could sell this CD on its own, as the
runaway success of EMI’s Canto Gregoriano some years
ago demonstrated. Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music
– iconographically she’s depicted as a blind organist – so it’s
appropriate that the music composed in her honour on this disc
should be attractive.
The all-female vocalists perform well, with a pure, uplifting
tone, as bright and shining as implied by their chosen name,
meaning ‘shining white lily’, one of the attributes of the Virgin
Mary. I’d like to hear them in the more varied music of Abbess
Hildegard of Bingen – some of the music here dates back almost
as far as the time of Hildegard. In any case, it has long been
realised that the transition from the high middle ages to the
renaissance was much more seamless than writers like Burckhardt
believed. If anyone was ahead of her time, it was Hildegard
and, though her repertoire has been worked over in recent years,
there would still be room for another recording as well sung
as the music here. I thought I detected more than a hint of
the Abbess’s style in some of the music on this CD before I
discovered that the writer of the notes had entertained the
same thought, leaving the question open. Listen to track 8,
the responsory Gloriose Christi confessor, and you’ll
see what I mean.
The singing is not far short of the quality of Gothic Voices’
celebrated recording of Hildegard’s music – see below. Like
them, Norbert Rodenkirchen mostly performs the music unaccompanied,
restricting the use of the fiddle, flute and harp – the latter
two in his own hands – to the three instrumental tracks which
I’ve mentioned. Only at the end of track 11, the postlude to
the responsory Circulus annis, for the actual feast day
of Cecilia, do we have an instrumental response to the vocal
music, and even this is not of the intrusive kind practised
on Officium and its successor recordings on the ECM label.
The recording captures the purity of the voices well. It’s the
kind of sound that does justice to the music without sounding
significant in its own right or getting in its way. As such
it’s ideal, though a surround-sound SACD might have made the
experience more realistic.
All the texts are included, with English and German translations,
though it appears to have been considered that the Magnificat
was so well known that it could be omitted from the text of
track 9. Otherwise the booklet is informative and the English
translation, if a trifle stilted, is more than adequate.
My list of recommended music for the end of a bad-hair day is
headed by Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices in the music of Abbess
Hildegard, A Feather on the Breath of God, reissued in
2010 at mid price to celebrate Hyperion’s 30th birthday
(CDA30009, formerly CDA66039). See review
and my Download Roundup: Hyperion
Top 30. This recording now joins that list and I look forward
to hearing more from Ensemble Candens Lilium.