Collection: Officium

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Medieval Motets with saxophone improvisation
PERFORMER: Jan Garbarek (saxophones)Hilliard Ensemble


This is a bizarre but very persuasive disc. The combination of pure a cappella voices in medieval and Renaissance music with saxophone improvisation is a mind-stretch; only artists of considerable sensitivity could bring it off. But the Hilliard Ensemble and the distinguished Norwegian saxophone player, Jan Garbarek, succeed magnificently.

It’s no surprise that this disc should come from the enterprising ECM label, for in its 25 years its founder, Manfred Eicher, has championed a particular kind of ‘progressive’ new music – Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars – with ‘progressive’ performers – Keith Jarrett, Gidon Kremer, Gary Burton. This disc is ‘old’ music but with a ‘new’-music spin, for it’s a recording of improvisation.

The Hilliard sing and Garbarek weaves and wheels within the texture or soars over the top. He alternates between tenor and soprano saxophone, marvellously responding to the mood, be it joyous in an anonymous 14th-century Czech Credo, or austere in Pérotin’s Beata viscera, where David James’s ethereal countertenor magically hovers over a vocal drone.


Dufay’s Ave maris stella will have the purists gasping, but why not? The sound is rich and velvety, capturing the natural, highly reverberant acoustic of an Austrian mountain monastery. Try it! Annette Morreau