LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Medeival chant and polyphony
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907232
Whatever one may think of the, by now, predictably pretty offerings from Anonymous 4, one has to acknowledge that they are generally superbly researched. This particular disc contains almost all of the surviving musical works relating to St Nicholas (except the liturgical dramas) written between c1150-c1350.
Moreover, this focus on the miracles of a rather startling saint who, as a baby refused his mother’s breast except on Wednesdays and Fridays, makes a welcome change from all those endless panegyrics on the Virgin Mary.
The group are at their best in the simple, two-part conductus pieces such as Exultemus et letemer where no gritty tensions or shadows are allowed to pass over the music. They are also pleasantly alluring in the songs, to which they often add counter-melodies – though things get slightly out of control harmonically in Sainte Nicholaes on track 16. And Susan Hellauer gives a fine, solo account of the dramatic hymn Cum quidam fluctuantia.
But the spacious acoustic and the soft-edged style do not serve the (more complex) motets well. For example, the crisp and brilliant mechanics of the interplay of parts in Salve cleri are reduced to a kind of milky wash – and not even of the Wednesday or Friday variety. Anthony Pryer