Sacred Chants: Columba aspexit; O Euchari in leta via etc
Grace Davidson (soprano)
Signum Classics SIGCD717 59:05 mins
Many seem to think of Hildegard (d1179) as a mysterious, visionary woman from the Dark Ages. In fact she was an aristocratic abbess who was once told off for allowing her nuns to wear their tiaras to Mass, and she lived her life in a culturally rich area of the German Rhineland. About half the items on this recording celebrate saints commemorated locally (St Ursula at Cologne, St Maximus at Mainz, St Eucharius at Trier etc) while the others praise the Virgin Mary.
There have been many recordings of Hildegard’s works but here Grace Davidson, singing alone, unfolds a tapestry of sounds filled with exceptional purity, mellifluous continuity and a focused sense of form. The vocal techniques of breath control (the long verses in Ave generosa), the command of the stunning leaps and dizzying meanderings of melody (O Ecclesia), and the subtle colouring of modal changes (O presule) are very impressive. An exceptional recording then, though occasionally a more differentiated approach might be possible – perhaps distinguishing slightly between narrative text and dialogue (O Ecclesia), or allowing some of the darker content (in O Jerusalem for example) to influence the grain of the voice and the articulation of consonants.