Hildegard Of Bingen: Ordo virtutum

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COMPOSERS: Hildegard Of Bingen
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Ordo virtutum
PERFORMER: Sequentia
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77394 2
This is Sequentia’s second attempt at Hildegard’s morality play, the Ordo virtutum; an earlier version was released some years ago on the same label. Here there are more attempts at characterisation – the Devil (who never sings) is wonderfully hectoring and sneering, and the prophets and patriarchs intone in deep, improvised polyphony – but there is little anguish or ecstasy. Even when ‘Soul’ gives a song-picture of the Virtues ‘flashing bright in the highest Sun’, supported by an extraordinary cascade of notes, we simply get a rather anonymous vocal glide. There is plenty in the text to suggest that drama was intended, as this year’s Proms performance (8 September at 10pm) should reveal.

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The disc by the Eibingen Choir does have one very strong claim to authenticity: it is performed by the religious descendants of Hildegard at her nunnery in Germany. They hope to make Hildegard’s chants more meaningful by ‘at last being able to hear them performed in the context of the liturgy’. In fact, last year, Marcel Pérès did exactly this with her pieces for Lauds (Harmonia Mundi, reviewed September 1997), and this present reconstruction of Vespers only contains four antiphons and psalms, not the usual five. Nonetheless, there is a special atmosphere here, best heard in the poised incantation from the Book of Revelation. The longer works (the sequences) are more musically done by Gothic Voices (Hyperion), but sometimes simple is best – for spiritual reasons. Anthony Pryer