Hildegard Of Bingen: A Feather on the Breath of God

COMPOSERS: Hildegard Of Bingen
LABELS: Hyperion 20th Anniversary
WORKS: A Feather on the Breath of God
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano); Gothic Voices/Christopher Page
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 20039 Reissue (1984)
Can it really be two decades since Ted Perry, famously financing his shoe-string operation by driving a taxi, began Hyperion? In that time his company has gained a reputation for its enterprising choice of repertoire, always based on musical considerations rather than on those of current popularity. These half-dozen reissues from its special Top 20 anniversary edition, represent some of the best of that diverse work, given by some of the groups who have made their names on the back of Hyperion’s enterprise.

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From 1984 there is Gothic Voices’ pioneering recording of the music of Hildegard of Bingen, now a composer as well known as her approximate contemporaries, Pérotin and Leonin. Today’s taste is for a greater feeling of freedom and improvisation than Emma Kirkby and co bring to their singing, but this remains a hauntingly beautiful disc. Meanwhile, Duruflé’s Requiem – sung by the Corydon Singers with soloists Ann Murray and Thomas Allen – sounds wonderfully mellow, just avoiding the saccharine piety which such music can so easily induce, while the same group’s account of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers is rich and atmospheric, a blissfully unhurried reading with a mark of authenticity about it.

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The King’s Consort’s pair of discs is also well chosen. On a celebrated 1991 release, Handel’s Coronation Anthems are delivered with grace as well as magnificence, and beautifully sung by New College Choir, while the filler, the only available version of the Music for the Royal Fireworks with all 24 oboes, nine horns and the rest, makes its point with crude magnificence. By contrast, Robert King’s pared down readings of Pergolesi’s Stabat mater, Salve regina and In coelestibus, with just seven instrumentalists in support of the soprano Gillian Fisher and the countertenor Michael Chance, is a model of polished refinement. Finally, there’s the Choir of Westminster Cathedral’s fine Tallis recital, culminating in an imposing performance of the 40-part motet Spem in alium.