A film by Uli Aumáller

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: A film by Uli Aumáller
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature (Perotin)
WORKS: Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature – Life and works of Perotin
PERFORMER: Hilliard Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 100 695

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The 13th-century composer Perotin has received a lot of attention from the Hilliard Ensemble over the years. Now, working with German filmaker Uli Aumüller, they have produced this astonishing triptych in honour of the composer – a documentary exploring his music; a film of Aumüller explaining the project; and a debate filmed in Schleswig Cathedral which investigates the nature of biography (we know almost nothing about Perotin), the supposed historical coincidence of the invention of the mechanical clock and the codification of musical rhythms, and the confluence of the ‘faceless’ Perotin ‘kissed’ by divine inspiration (and so giving birth to music) with the self-effacing Virgin ‘kissed’ by the Holy Spirit (and giving birth to the Son of God). Finally, the two DVDs have some little extras (including clips from earlier films of the Hilliard Ensemble) and, for those who like their music without distractions, the works performed are repeated on a separate audio CD.

The singing is admirable: poised and immaculately controlled in Beata viscera; terrifically well paced in the churchy acoustic, especially in Viderunt omnes; and it includes some fascinating moments of vocal experiment in free rhythm at the instigation of the musicologist Rudolf Flötzinger. In the background two dancers do little twirls which show less imagination than some of the rather over-heated metaphors that permeate the debate on the second DVD. This is an adventurous project, but one that has clearly been difficult to bring off: the film dissolves into a film about itself; the debate stops just when it is getting exciting; and even Perotin seems more opaque than he need be (no mention of the recent views of American scholars on Perotin, and we only hear six of his seven known works). Intriguing, though, and a set that might grow in reputation.

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Anthony Pryer