Virgo Sancta Cæcilia: Chant from the Antiphonary of Anna Hachenberch (c.1520)
Invitatorium: Regem, confessorum dominum [0:28]
Antiphon: Virgo Sancta Cecilia [0:51]
Responsorium: Sancta Cecilia Christi martir [3:05]
Antiphon: Omnes Populi [0:46]
Antoine BRUMEL (c.1460-c.1515) Pleni [1:27]
Josquin DESPREZ (d.1521) Agnus Dei [1:58]
Antiphon: Patroni digni merita / Psalm Laudate pueri / Antiphon [3:16]
Responsorium: Gloriose Christi confessor [3:04]
Antiphon: Celebrem sancti patris / Magnificat / Antiphon [7:16]
Anonymous Maria, mater pia [1:22]
Responsorium: Circulus annalis / Postludium [8:35]
Responsorium: Cum sublimatus [6:58]
Anonymous (Buxheimer Orgelbuch) Redeuntes [1:04]
Responsorium: Christi virgo dilectissima [3:12]
Josquin DESPREZ Per illud ave [1:15]
Responsorium: Dabit illi Dominus Deus [7:28]
Ensemble Candens Lilium/Norbert Rodenkirchen
rec. Museum Schnütgen, St Cäcilien, Cologne, 17-19 October 2009. DDD.
Texts with English and German translations included.

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.

Brian Wilson

Joins my list of recommendations for the end of a bad-hair day.