The Divine Mystery
Herman CONTRACTUS (1013 – 1054) Alma Redemptoris Mater [4.59] (1)
Anonymous Kyrie (Messe de Tournai) [1.57] (1)
Lionel POWER (1370 - 1453) Gloria (Alma Redemptoris Mater Mass) [4.29]
Anonymous Ante sex dies (from the Skara Missal) [4.59] (1); Prima autem (from the Skara Missal) [2.35]
Knut NYSTEDT (b. 1915) Credo (from Messa per percussione) [5.16] (1)
Hildegard VON BINGEN (1091 - 1179) Ave generosa [5.38]
Anonymous Sanctus (from Codex Las Huelgas) [5.25] (1); Ave maris stella [3.52]
Thomas PACKE (1463 – 1499) Salve sancta Parens [5.35] (1)
Anonymous Agnus Dei (from Codex Las Huelgas) [5.35]; O vere digna (from Liber scole virginis) [4.56] (1)
Schola Gothia (Ulrike Heider, Yvonne Carlsson, Kristina Lundh, Helene Stensgard Larsson)
Hanna Wiskari Griffiths (saxophone) (1)
rec. 17-19 June 2011, Örgrtye Nya Kyrka, Göteborg, Sweden
Schola Gothia is a four-woman vocal ensemble from Sweden and formed in 1999. Their director, Ulrike Heider, is a German based in Göteborg where she is organist of the Haga Church and teaches liturgical singing at the Academy of Music and Drama. The group’s repertoire includes Gregorian chant and early polyphonic music from the 14th and 15th centuries. They study their music from historical notation and use a single large music stand for performance. This is their fourth CD; their second, Gaude Birgitta, received a Grammy nomination in 2003.
This new disc is a little bit different as it is collaboration with the saxophonist Hanna Wiskari Griffiths. Griffiths has studied both saxophone and traditional Swedish music.
Though clearly inspired by the Hilliard Ensemble’s ground-breaking Officium, recorded with the jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek, this disc has some differences; the four high voices for a start, and the fact that Griffiths’ improvisations take Swedish folk music as one of their starting points. Whereas Garbarek provides the Hilliards with a jazz-inspired counterpoint to their music, Griffiths (playing a soprano saxophone) is more consonant. Sometimes she engages in dialogue with the singers, providing improvisations which lead into or arise out of the singing. Where the saxophone accompanies the singers, often Griffiths plays what seems almost like an additional vocal line.
They start with the Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater, sung first as monody then as organum with the discreet addition of saxophone. This is followed by saxophone improvisation which seems to emerge from the chant.
The Kyrie from the Messe de Tournai follows; this comes from the oldest surviving polyphonic mass. Here the early polyphony finds itself in interesting dialogue with the saxophone. The disc is structured like a mass with the ordinary taken from a variety of early masses. The fine Gloria is from Lionel Power’s Alma Redemptoris Mater Mass, based on the Marian antiphon which opened the disc. The mass is found in the 14th century Old Hall manuscript.
The antiphon Ante Sex Dies comes from the 12th century Skara Missal, believed to be Sweden’s oldest book. Here the chant is again followed by an improvisation evolving out of the chant. The antiphon Prima autem also comes from the Skara Missal, this time performed unadorned.
The Credo is a contemporary piece from Knut Nystedt’s Messa per percussion, a piece for percussionists and chant written in 1992. In the Credo the singers and the saxophone all improvise on the familiar plainchant Credo melody.
To my surprise Hildegard of Bingen’s Ave Generosa is performed plain and spartan, with no saxophone and no vocal drones. The result is immensely powerful and meditative.
In complete contrast comes the Sanctus from the Codex Las Huelgas, a Spanish manuscript which takes its name from the monastery where it is still preserved. It is one of the most important sources for medieval music written for women’s voices. The Sanctus is troped, with the tropes sung to a lively organum in which the saxophone participates, adding an extra line.
Ave Maris Stella is the familiar plainchant hymn, with the doxology decorated with organum. Thomas Packe’s Salve, sancta parens is one of the most recent pieces on the disc; Packe seems to have been associated with Exeter Cathedral and two of his three surviving masses are preserved in the Ritson Manuscript. Griffiths supplies this motet with relatively discreet improvisation.
The lively Agnus Dei is again from the Codex Las Huelgas, this time performed without saxophone.
The final item is from another Swedish manuscript, the Liber Scole Virginis from the 14th century. The lovely chant is added to by Griffiths’ organum-like harmonies on the saxophone.
The CD contains full texts and English translations. There is an article on the music in English as well as performer biographies (plus Japanese translations). Add to this illustrations from the manuscripts used.
This is a lovely disc. The chant is beautifully and evenly sung, with nice unanimity though the four voices contribute different timbres to the mix. I could quite happily have listened to Schola Gothia on their own. Adding the saxophone creates interesting counterpoints and dialogues. Compared to Officium the results are relatively discreet and I enjoyed the way the two different groups subtly interact.
Robert Hugill
A lovely disc. Beautifully and evenly sung, with nice unanimity.