- Hildegard von Bingen - An Interior Life [Recommended Recordings]
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Hildegard von Bingen
Recommended Recordings

"Every element has a sound, an original sound from the order of God; all those sounds unite like the harmony from harps and zithers."

11,000 Virgins
(Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, et al; Anonymous 4)
All the world loves Hildegard--and the four women of Anonymous 4 may be the best interpreters of her music since the 12th century. St. Ursula was the legendary daughter of a British king who, with her army of virgin companions, was martyred in Cologne, perhaps in the fifth century; Hildegard wrote these Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula for use in a highly solemn celebration along with other liturgical chants. It is in this context that Anonymous 4 presents this program, interspersing chants and psalmody with Hildegard's compositions, sometimes employing drones and polyphonic embellishment. The musical effect is a mixture of awesome reverence and earthly sensuousness. The combination of four different women's voices in perfect unison creates a richly colored sound that can lull or console or uplift. (review by David Vernier)

900 Years - Hildegard von Bingen
(Box Set - Various Artists)
For all the effort put behind the Hildegard von Bingen revival in the past decade, no one has been as persistent as Sequentia. They capped their Hildegard cycles in 1998 with the two-CD set Saints and then this eight-CD collection. Nowhere else can you get such a focused study, showing exemplary growth in vision and polyphonic presentation. The music isn't flashy, but it's inventive in methodical steps and an abiding sense of vocal textures that sounds multidimensionally complex and still categorically engrossing. (review by Andrew Bartlett)

A Feather on the Breath of God
(Poppy Holden, Emma Kirkby, et al; Gothic Voices; Christopher Page, conductor)
This is the record that started the Hildegard craze back in 1982--and you need only listen to Emma Kirkby glide and soar through Columba aspexit (the opening hymn) to understand why. Gothic Voices performs the music very simply, either alternating soloists and unison choir over a drone or using a single unaccompanied voice. The singers render Hildegard's extravagant poetic imagery and melody not with the rhythmically fluid, ecstatic approach favored by Sequentia, but with equalist rhythm and a calm, meditative quality. Gothic Voices' straightforward approach is less likely to send you into a rapturous trance than is Sequentia's, but in the hands of such fine singers as Kirkby, Margaret Philpot, and Emily van Evera, Hildegard's extraordinary texts and melodies are captivating--and clear enough to linger in the memory as melodies rather than just sensations. This record is still Hyperion's bestselling title by far--try it and find out why. (review by Matthew Westphal)

Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works : With Letters and Songs
(Matthew Fox, editor )
Mysticism has a long history in Christianity, and 12th-century Hildegard of Bingen is one of Christianity's most admired mystics. The Book of Divine Works is her record of visions from God. Included are a number of letters and sermons that she wrote to various figureheads of the time, along with 15 songs, complete with lyrics and medieval notation.

Hildegard von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy
(Elisabetta De'Mircovich, Elizabeth Gaver, et al.; Sequentia)
Although Hildegard von Bingen's music has been around for 900 years--and recordings of her music for decades--it seems that only now, as we approach the turn of another millennium, the time is right for the world to pay attention. In this first-rate traversal of her music--the most popular of several volumes released by the early-music ensemble Sequentia--we hear music that resulted from Hildegard's legendary visions, which often included song texts that she subsequently collected and dispensed to her religious community of women. As rendered here by the voices and instruments of Sequentia, her music invokes an unobscured sense of mystery, conforming to Hildegard's belief that music was our bridge to the harmonies of the heavens. Whether or not we're experiencing that "heavenly harmony" here, the simple, direct, beautifully turned melodies, sung by pure, finely tuned, warm-colored women's voices, often eerily accompanied by an instrumental drone, is heavenly enough. (review by David Vernier)

Ordo Virtutum
(Benjamin Bagby, Elizabeth Gaver, et al; Sequentia)
Sequentia brought this extraordinary allegorical proto-opera to public attention with a recording and tour in 1982, at the beginning of the Hildegard boom. This new release is the culmination of the label's series of Hildegard's complete works in honor of the 900th anniversary of her birth. The earlier recording included a lot of intrusive instrumental doodling, but 16 years of experience have given Sequentia the courage to let the vocal lines (however plain) speak for themselves--and what glorious lines they are. The Soul's weary lament as she returns from her sojourn with the Devil and Victory's soaring solo upon the Devil's final defeat are astonishing. Fine singing and playing make this disc as fine a tribute as Hildegard and her fans could want. (review by Matthew Westphal)


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