HILDEGARD of Bingen (1098 -1179)
O Eterne Deus
Quia Ergo Femina [2.26]
O Quam Magnum Miraculum Est [3.38]
Ave, Generosa [5.58]
O Frondens Virga [2.52]
Ispariz (Vielle & harp duo) (arr. Shira Kammen) [2.36]
Karitas Habundat [2.36]
O Ignis Spiritus Paracliti [7.55]
Laus Trinitati [1.34]
O Eterne Deus [2.46]
Instrumental on Kyrie (arr. Kammen) [2.22]
Rex Noster Promptus Est [4.59]
Kyrie Eleison [2.16]
O Virtus Sapientiae [2.55]
O Viriditas Digiti Dei [5.28]
Karen R. Clark (director/ contralto)
Shira Kammen (vielle/ medieval harp)
Vajra Voices
rec. St. Ignatius Catholic Church, San Francisco, California, 20-22 August, 2015
MUSIC & ARTS CD1291 [50.22]

Interest in Hildegard has perhaps never been greater than in the last 50 years. She has been seen variously as proto-feminist, mystic, healer, as well as fine musician. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed her canonisation and named her a Doctor of the Church, only the fourth woman to achieve the status.

In 1982, Hyperion produced the wonderful A Feather on the Breath of God (Hyperion CDA66039), with Emma Kirkby and the Gothic Voices conducted by Christopher Page. I have heard few recordings since which have quite reached those elevated heights, except for the recordings by Sequentia, Canticles of Ecstasy (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77320 2) and Symphoniae (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi GD77020).

This recording is very much one to add to that select handful. The Vajra Voices, 7 in all, are a Berkeley-based all-female group who have Hildegard’s music at the centre of their repertory. Their strengths, apart from beautiful voices, include precise articulation and the confidence to be simple in expression. Voices blend beautifully, and Karen R Clark has a contralto well-suited to the spiritual depths of the music – a truly splendid voice. The only piece common to this CD and A Feather on the Breath of God is Ave, generosa, here markedly slower than on the Hyperion, partly to suit a church acoustic, but also to enable the richness of the music and the depth of spiritual insight to emerge clearly. There is no ‘right’ tempo in medieval chant, no metronome markings to guide us. There is a case for both quicker and slower performances, and whether we follow the Hyperion or this new one, there are such riches. Listen either to the opening or the final pages, and one is touched by a depth and beauty.

The instrumental sections are interesting, with the vielle (a sort of medieval violin, but with five strings) and harp providing some lovely textures. Shira Kammen, a medieval specialist - she has performed with major groups including Hesperion XX - is a fine musician and Allison Zelles Lloyd, one of the singers, also plays medieval harp.

All in all, this recording belongs with the very best Hildegard collections, one for late night reflectiveness.

Michael Wilkinson

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