Hildegard Von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy

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COMPOSERS: Hildegard Von Bingen
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Canticles of Ecstasy
PERFORMER: Sequentia/Barbara Thornton
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77320 2 DDD
You have only three years to psyche yourself up for the 900th-anniversary celebrations of Hildegard’s birth. Begin with this offering from Sequentia, which provides a clear introduction to her songs for the Virgin Mary, her works in praise of the Holy Spirit and her exhortations to the ecclesiastical community.

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The approach is uncluttered rather than purist: our modern reception of the plainsong is helped along with some discreetly added drones, and with tinkling haloes of string accompaniment. The best track is the spacious and moving ‘O tu suavissima,’ its vaulting melody presented with great beauty.

For those who feel that life might be more zany than this, and who perhaps smoked an illegal substance in their youth, I recommend the disc from Angel Records. It is great fun, full of rhythm-track backings and ooh-aah mystery. Until you have bopped along to Hildegard’s ‘O Euchari’, you haven’t lived. These discs invite comparison with the 1982 Hildegard recording by Gothic Voices – A Feather on the Breath of God. Only the song ‘O viridissima virga’ is found on all three issues.

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Sequentia uses a restrained chorus of female singers, Gothic Voices has a male ensemble with an impeccable medieval pronunciation of the Latin text, and the Angel recording misses out a chunk of the music but zaps us with its electronic atmospherics. I go for Sequentia, but how was it for you? Anthony Pryer