Ensemble Mediatrix

Hildegard von Bingen: Femina forma Maria

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Profil's album of the music of Hildegard von Bingen includes 12 songs in honor of Mary taken from the Dendermonde Codex, a manuscript prepared under Hildegard's supervision that contains 58 of her 77 liturgical compositons. The music of the codex is notated as monophonic melodies, and Ensemble Mediatrix, led by Johannes Berchmans Göschl, performs the antiphons, responsoria, hymns, and sequences just as written. The subject of historically informed performance practice as it relates to the music of Hildegard is fraught with contradictory opinions. Because of lack of detail in the manuscripts, it is based largely on speculation, but it is further complicated by the scrupulously documented details of the composer's colorful personality. Hildegard's flouting of traditional thinking in practically every aspect of her life, including the disregard of modal and melodic conventions in her wildly original music, certainly leaves open the door to the possibility that her own performances did not conform to standard liturgical practices of her time. Some modern interpreters have made persuasive cases for the use of instrumental accompaniment, heightened expressiveness, and even ornamentation. For listeners who want their Hildegard straight, this recording should be satisfying. The unison women's chorus is unaccompanied and sings within a circumspect expressive and dynamic range. The only real liberty they take is assigning some sections to solo voices. The vocal sound is pure, unmannered, and chaste, and sounds not unlike performances of traditional plainsong; it may have been the performers' purpose to provide an antidote to the genuinely off-the-wall Hildegard interpretations that are all too abundant. Their restraint, though, at points where Hildegard's eccentric melodies seem to want to soar off into ecstatic flight dampens what appears to be her musical and theological intentions. So while the album is undeniably lovely, in its reserve it perhaps errs too far on the side of caution to give a full picture of just how original a thinker Hildegard was. The sound is clean and nicely ambient.

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