Hildegard Of Bingen: Chants for the Feast of St Ursula

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COMPOSERS: Hildegard Of Bingen
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Chants for the Feast of St Ursula
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907200
With one year to go before the 900th anniversary of Hildegard’s birth, the avalanche of recordings is now almost out of control. But here is one that many will welcome – the long-awaited meeting between Hildegard’s rhapsodic music and the cool spirituality of the all-female Anonymous 4.

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The group has selected pieces that can be played within the framework of church services for St Ursula – a virgin-like martyr who, together with her ‘11,000’ followers, was killed by the Huns on the banks of the Rhine. The traditional chants are not by Hildegard but the imaginative rendering here of the Magnificat and other liturgical items raises their status to that of high art. Of the seven works on this disc actually by Hildegard, some overlap with another recent recording of the St Ursula pieces by Marcel Pérès – issued, somewhat surprisingly, on the same label (reviewed in September). The comparison is illuminating: Pérès cannot match the smooth, sweet agility of this performance of Spiritui sancto honor but his sense of drama is greater and, in Cum vox sanguinis, his use of chest-register female voices and his bolder approach to ornamentation put us in touch with a rougher, more complex and earlier emotional world. It is this kind of authenticity that passes Anonymous 4 by – the kind summed up by Groucho Marx when he said that he had been around long enough to remember Doris Day before she was a virgin. Anthony Pryer