Collection: A Star in the East

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COMPOSERS: Anonymous
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Medieval Hungarian Christmas music
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907139

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This all-female quartet has occupied a pre-eminent position in early music performance for ten years – quite an achievement considering that, in the Middle Ages, most of the music was written for men and is not in four parts. But Anonymous 4 combine an ingenious approach to the repertoire with a magical blend of voices, and these attributes are again in evidence here. The pieces are selected from chants, songs, hymns and intonations from the Christmas church services of the archbishopric of Esztergom – works that have never before been recorded outside Hungary.

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This is hardly a Christmas revel, more a quiet meditation. Such an approach well serves the silky lyricism of the Gradual ‘Speciosus forma’, the echoing harmonies of the song ‘Novum decus’ and the fluting leaps of ‘Salvator noster’. But in the motet ‘Exordium quadruplate’ the gently touching voices neutralise the tension and release of the inner parts, and even the works in Hungarian are sung with vowels and consonants as soft as soap bubbles. This is disembodied music-making – pleasing, but almost Buddhist in its detachment. Sometimes our ears need to be pestered as well as caressed. After all, even Hungary did not come of age until Buda and Pest were united. Anthony Pryer