Collection: Mnemosyne

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous,Bingen,Brumel,Dufay,Rouge,Tallis
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Quecha song
PERFORMER: Hilliard Ensemble; Jan Garbarek (saxophones)
CATALOGUE NO: 465 122-2

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No early-repertoire performers have done more for contemporary composition than the Hilliard Ensemble. Justly famed for well-honed, small-scale performances of polyphony, they are increasingly celebrated for their masterly way with new music, much of which they have commissioned themselves. More recently they have pioneered a crossover form of performance with the Saxophonist, Jan Garbarek, which has proved enormously popular. In reacting to older musics, Garbarek’s tone seems particularly attuned to David James’ plangent countertenor. This most recent fruit of the collaboration favours the down-beat – Garbarek’s improvisatory muse seems mostly stimulated by slow and reflective items.

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Frankly, the results are mixed: sometimes intriguing (the two fascinating versions of an Estonian lullaby), sometimes inspiring (the ‘Quechua song’), but overall variety is not high on the agenda, and some will wonder what Garbarek’s playing adds to certain items, such as the hymn by Tallis. There is a self-conscious new aginess about the presentation of the set with its moody monochrome box photos and printing of Hölderlin’s Mnemosyne from which it takes its name, and some of this aura seeps into the arrangements; but those who enjoy soulful polyphony energised by Garbarek’s soaring saxophone lines will find much entertainment. Jan Smaczny