Music and Visions of Hildegard von BingenPurchase The Origin of Fire at:
Critique or tribute? Now that we bid farewell to Anonymous 4--this is the famed foursome's last recording--we realize that it's been 18 years and 15 or so discs since four unknown young singers decided that (whatever were they thinking?) it would be a cool idea for four women to sing medieval chant and polyphony, for audiences, no less(!) when no one had ever before dared imagine such a thing. And who could have predicted the 1990s world-wide craze for all things chant or the effect of Anonymous 4's appearance on an NPR show--and how lucky they were to have been "picked up" by a label with the sharp A & R instincts and staunch commitment to its artists--not to mention the high production standards--of Harmonia Mundi USA.
Besides reviewing every one of Anonymous 4's recordings for several international publications (including this one), I also wrote articles about the activities of the ensemble, sat in on a recording session, and attended numerous live performances, from Keene, New Hampshire to New York City to Saint Riquier, France. (I even wrote a parody review for Classicstoday.com of their first CD, An English Ladymass, titled "An English Girlymass"--and they posted it on their website!) Remarkably, the quality of performance never varied; the sincerity and personal commitment of the singers never faltered. The focus, the mission, the group's purpose--to sing medieval chant and polyphony--never wavered.
The fact is, these women didn't just sing chant better than anyone else on the planet; they diligently researched and intelligently programmed it, presenting a purposeful, informative package in high-quality recordings that captivated all who listened with the group's amazing, ethereal purity of sound, as if emanating from one heavenly voice. And unlike some other early-music groups, who seemed to regard detached, emotionless interpretations as a badge of "authenticity", Anonymous 4's performances invariably conveyed the joy of singing that these women obviously felt--and breathed and lived for all those years.
As for the present recording--actually completed in the fall of 2003--the group returns to music of Hildegard von Bingen, which they more or less introduced to masses of new listeners on their 1997 disc titled 11,000 Virgins, which focused on chants for the Feast of St. Ursula. This time the theme is the Holy Spirit, particularly Hildegard's visions and their powerful imagery, where fire and light held an important place. Hildegard's own chants are interspersed with selected excerpts from four of these visions--The fire of creation; Wisdom and her sisters; The fiery spirit; Love--which Anonymous 4 has set to hymns and sequences drawn "from medieval German sources".
you're a fan of chant--and especially if you are an experienced
listener--you will be impressed with the sophistication and sheer
beauty of Hildegard's work; and if you're a fan of sublime singing,
well, you'll find it here, as we always have, performed to perfection
by the uniquely gifted, phenomenal, Anonymous 4. So, this turned out to
be more tribute than review. But to a group who has maintained such
high musical and performance values and has delivered such a
distinguished body of work for the last decade-and-a half, they deserve
it. Farewell, "girls". We'll miss you.
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Discography: Secret Voices The Cherry Tree Four Centuries of Chant Gloryland Noel The Origin of Fire
American Angels Wolcum Yule Darkness into Light la bele marie The Second Circle 1000: A Mass for the End of Time
Legends of St. Nicholas A Lammas Ladymass 11,000 Virgins Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary Miracles of Sant'Iago The Lily & The Lamb
Love's Illusion On Yoolis Night An English Ladymass Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light A Portrait of Anonymous 4
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