The Hilliard Ensemble

Transeamus

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Transeamus Review

by James Manheim

The title of this album (translation: We pass on) refers to the fact that it is the last one made by the superb Hilliard Ensemble vocal quartet before its retirement. That's a sad event, for few quartets have ever managed the precision of this one nor had the engineering resources of the ECM label backing them up. This collection of 15th century English music loosely centered on the Christmas story might seem an odd choice for a swan song, and it would have been choirs larger than a quartet that would have sung this music in the first place, but taken on its own terms the program is beautifully sung. Much of the music is anonymous, and the composer of the dialogue with Christ at the end is known only as Sheryngham. But even though the music is all but unknown, the group has performed these pieces as a live program with powerful effect in the past. It has a way of putting this music across, of getting its strange mixture of medieval sound and deep expressivity, of finding the individual shape of each piece. And the sound of four voices against silence, recorded at Austria's Propstei St. Gerold monastery, has rarely been so starkly rendered. This is a fine closing chapter to a remarkable career.

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