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Vox Cosmica
Track listing below review
Hirundo Maris (Arianna Savall (Voice, Medieval Harp, Italian Triple Harp, Lyra, Tibetan Singing Bowl); Petter Udland Johansen (Voice, Hardingfele, Lyra, Fiddle, Monochord); Andreas Spindler (Flutes, Fiddle, Romain Bells, Colascione, Tromba Marina, Voice); Anke Spindler (Nyckelharpa, Fiddles, Viola da Gamba, Voice); David Mayoral (Santur, Percussion, Romain Bells, Voice))
rec. 2014, Heilig-Kruz-Kirche, Basel-Binningen, Switzerland

The title for this release from enterprising early music specialist label Carpe Diem comes from Hildegard von Bingen’s vision of man as “the receiver of all energy, both earthly and cosmic, and [with] the power to transform energy.” Even leaving aside the idea of a universe created by God which is “all love and beauty”, it is still a surprise to hear how much this vital Medieval figure still has to say to us in our times.

Interpretations of Hildegard von Bingen’s musical writings vary widely, but the musicians of the Hirundo Maris ensemble create a timeless atmosphere which, while it might, I hope, have been recognisable to Hildegard, also adds subtle touches of colour which feed our desire for contrasts of timbre. Chimes and a singing bowl to create a drone in the Antiphona: Karitas habuntat evoke something which no doubt goes beyond what historians might consider authentic, but the effect is magical.

Vocal solos are sung in Arianna Savall’s pure tones, her naturalness echoed in the tenor of Petter Udland Johansen in the Planctus David of Petrus Abaelardus. We are not told much about Petrus or Peter Abelard in the booklet but his fame spread far and wide, and his love for and affair with his pupil Héloïse d'Argenteuil is legendary.

Von Bingen and Abaelardus’s pieces are joined by four Meditations by Petter Udland Johansen, which add a gently secular, at times folksy tint to the programme. These pieces work well in their own right but, especially made for this album, also resonate well with with the religious pieces. The contrasts might have become a bit too much like jumping in and out of the monastery walls, but with ‘worldly’ elements already encroaching onto Hildegard’s radiant melodies the effect is more that of lifting the whole project out of something which might otherwise have become overly precious and fragile and into a concert performance which can parry any accusations of sleepy new-ageness.

The general effect of this programme is one of reflective meditation, spiritual contemplation and refreshment, and quiet joy in music-making from the performers. Beautifully recorded, this is one of those special releases which provide balm in our turbulent times. If you love the classic Hyperion release Feather on the Breath of God but have been disheartened by the directions taken by some of the many Hildegard von Bingen releases which have followed it, this may well be the recording to restore your faith.

Dominy Clements
Track listing
Hildegard von BINGEN (1098-1170)
Responsorium: O tu suavissima virga [15:04]
Antiphona: Karitas Habundat [5:57]
Petter Udland JOHANSEN (b. 1971)
Meditation I [4:54]
Petrus Abaelardus (1079-1142)
Sequentia: Planctus David [16:00]
Petter Udland JOHANSEN
Meditation II [4:09]
Hildegard von BINGEN
Responsorium: Ave Maria [10:26]
Petter Udland JOHANSEN
Meditation III [4:33]
Hildegard von BINGEN
Antiphona: O quam mirabilis [7:57]
Petter Udland JOHANSEN
Meditation IV [4:27]
Hildegard von BINGEN
Antiphona: O virtus Sapientiae [6:21]



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