Various: Medieval Chant & Polyphony for the Ascension

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: 1000 Ð a Mass for the End of Time
WORKS: Medieval Chant & Polyphony for the Ascension
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907224
In the razzmatazz of the current celebrations it is perhaps easy to forget that this is the second Christian Millennium, not the first. And to demonstrate that music was already thriving 1,000 years ago, Anonymous 4 has assembled here an astonishing feast of sacred works from Winchester Cathedral, St Martial in Limoges and the basilica in the French town of Apt. Most of these items are from the Mass service, though the original sources have added some splendid extra melodies and texts (called ‘tropes’) to these pieces so as to link them specifically to the Feast of the Ascension.

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Those who love the cool, clear sound of this famous female group will not be disappointed with this recording. There is the usual luxuriant sense of poise (in ‘Judicii signum’) and the frisson of subtly applied ornamentation (in the Offertory ‘Elevatus est’). What is missing, however, particularly in the miniature liturgical drama ‘Quem creditis’ (whose text, at least, implies male singers), is any real change of pace or sense of the church service as a kind of theatre. This will not worry many, but at times I found myself longing for the more gutsy approach of that marvellous DGArchiv disc of 1985, ‘Anglo-Saxon Easter’. Anthony Pryer