Filia Sion

Ecce venit / Psalm 94 (Gregorian antiphon) [9:36]
Virgo prudentissima / Magnificat (Gregorian antiphon) [4:59]
Gaudeamus (Gregorian introit) [2:47]
Rex virginum (Organum, from: Codex Las Huelgas) [3:35]
Gloria (Gregorian) [3:31]
Magister PEROTINUS (c1160-c1230): Beata viscera [8:21]
Audi filia (Gregorian gradual) [5:22]
Petrus Wilhelmi de GRUDENCZ (c1400-c 1480): Prelustri elucentia [2:43]
Ave Maria (Gregorian offertory) [6:09]
Hildegard von BINGEN (1098-1179): O ignis spiritus [6:25]
Agnus Dei (Gregorian) [1:07]
Exulta filia Sion (Gregorian communion) [3:05]
O Maria (Motet, from: Montpellier Manuscript) [4:46]
Salve regina (Gregorian antiphon) [2:52]
Ma navu (Jewish tune, from Cochin) [5:41]
Vox Clamantis/Jaan-Eik Tulve
rec. September 2010, Dome Church of St Nicholas, Haapsalu
ECM NEW SERIES 2244 [71:07]
There’s not a great deal to be said about this disc, other than to attempt a description of luminous performances and a beautiful recording of some marvellous medieval music.
Vox Clamantis is an Estonian ensemble which has been around since 1996. They bring together all kinds of musicians who are interested in Gregorian chant as a basis for European music, and composers such as Arvo Pärt have written pieces for them. With such a fine vocal sound this is hardly surprising, and we have them here in the midst and essence of what it’s all about. The title Filia Sion or Daughter of Sion refers to the Virgin Mary, with which the Medieval Christian tradition identified as personifying the church and its deeper traditions.
The pure tones of the opening Ecce venit encapsulate what this music brings: open, clear melodic shapes which express an unmistakably devotional atmosphere. The sparing drone tone which underlies the closing minutes of this piece is something of which you are barely aware, but it is a magical effect… as are the momentary harmonisations in the following Virgo prudentissima / Magnificat. You can imagine being in the presence of such a phenomenon for the first time - expecting the usual single lines, and suddenly being overwhelmed and inspired by new dimensions of harmony. Like the sometimes fragmentary and tenuous relics and links which the present holds to this distant past, the changes and means of expression are of the utmost subtlety - intangible but present, musical ghosts waiting in the air for such voices to arrive and bring them to life once again.
This isn’t really a disc from which to pick highlights, but if you dive for the named composers you will hear some pretty special stuff. The Perotinus Beata viscera is another piece where the melody is sustained by a held underlying note - a line like a distant horizon, subtly coloured with quasi-Tibetan vocal overtone changes which at times follow the melodic line. Who knows if the monks did this, but you can bet they would have been after having heard this. Vocal lines gradually join in to create an almost free-form imitative texture which could go on forever, but is alas all too brief. Petrus Wilhemi de Grudencz’s Cantio provides some more lively two-part contrast with gorgeously soft cadences. Hildegard von Bingen is always a draw, and her celestially expressive vocal lines are beautifully in evidence with the Sequentia performed here, a female soloist floating ethereally over a gathering harmony below which once again generates those upper harmonic colourations - another truly magical effect. The final track Ma navu, is another utterly transcendent moment.
Seventy minutes of unaccompanied vocal Medieval openness and simplicity might not superficially seem to present much appeal, but if you have any kind of spiritual side to your nature then this recording will see it reinforced and reinvigorated. The variety in ensemble and timbre generates plenty of colour and contrast between the pieces, and while all of them have a familial similarity they are all different, and the inventive approach brought to some is truly inspiring. Production standards are to ECM’s usual superlative standards, and the booklet contains all texts with English translations, and there are informative notes.
Dominy Clements
Truly magical.