Gardens of Delight – Roses, Lillies & Other Flowers in Medieval Song
Works by Alfonso X, Ciconia, Hildegard von Bingen, Machaut, Zacara da Teramo etc
First Hand Records FHR 68 64:58 mins
This garland of medieval pieces, inspired by the symbolism of roses, lilies and other flowers, roams from the heady south, with exotic Sephardic laments, plaintive Spanish Cantigas and Italian spiritual hymns, to the chilly climes of the north, where English carols give way to German seasonal songs and melismatic chants. The three members of The Telling beguilingly entwine their Siren-like voices with the delicate plucked strings of the medieval harp. Here and there, they embellish the written scores, adding drones, harp and percussion with discreet good taste. Particularly beautiful are Ciconia’s ‘O rosa bella’ (a yearningly beautiful piece forming the programme’s centre-point), the 14th-century English carol ‘Ther is no rose of swych virtu’, sung with wistful melancholy, and the fervent, florid chants of Hildegard of Bingen – so fragrant you can almost smell them.
The vocal colours of the two principal singers complement each other well: Clare Norburn’s clear, silvery, bell-like soprano just the foil for Ariane Prüssner’s resonant, wine-dark tones. In the ensemble pieces, intonation isn’t always quite secure, and a wavering vibrato occasionally intrudes – though there is an expressive ardour to these performances that is hard to resist. Harp intabulations of vocal works (including Machaut’s popular ballade ‘De tout flors’) are ingenuously played by Leah Stuttard (who also sings on several tracks). The recording is detailed and intimate, with the warm resonance of the church of St Mary Magdalene, Sherborne, adding an aptly delicate bloom.