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Gothic Voices - Mary Star Of The Sea - MusicWeb International

02 January 2017
MusicWeb International
Michael Wilkinson

For many music lovers, one of the finest recordings of the last 50 years was the extraordinary A Feather on the Breath of God, the legendary recording from the Gothic Voices recorded in 1981, which, for many, served as an introduction to the world of medieval polyphony as represented by Hildegard of Bingen. This new CD is just for the four outstanding singers of Gothic Voices, unaccompanied and unadorned (and not the original singers from 35 years ago!). This is the first of a series for Linn: the next will be devoted to Dufay.

This new CD is largely from later in the medieval period, principally the 13th and 14th centuries, interspersed with recent material from Joanne Metcalf and Andrew Smith. The focus in this CD is not a single composer but a single theme of Marian devotion.

Not to pay attention to the context, and to listen to the CD as pure music is to miss a little of the purpose of the programme, something which has been obviously carefully planned. To say that is to take nothing away from the beauty and security of the a capella singing, which is sheer delight throughout.

It would be simple to dismiss Marian devotions as of a kind, when Mary is of such significance in so many ways, not simply as ‘The Star of the Sea', or the young virgin at the Annunciation but no less as the mature mother in grief at the foot of the Cross (‘Stond wel, Moder, under rode') and the assumed Queen of Heaven. The programme thus moves through stages from the general through to the particular Mary on whom the believer might focus a specific meditation and prayer.

It is the agonised grief of ‘Stond wel...' in the anonymous form, which is the highlight of the CD - there is astonishing depth of beauty and anguish in the simple lines of the dialogue between mother and crucified Son. The simplicity is part of the intensity communicated. It is not often than reviewers draw attention to the acoustic of the recording, but the effect of the ambience of Boxgrove Priory gives a wonderful sense of background silence and timelessness. Regardless of personal faith, the sense of loss is universal, and it is caught to perfection here.

There are glories throughout, and the examples of modern pieces are well-performed. I confess that I remain in two minds about these. They contain fine moments and serve to remind us that Marian devotion is not something confined to a distant past but a continuing and important part of faith for so many. And yet, for myself, I think I would have preferred to have heard more pieces from the wealth of existent material from the Middle Ages. But that does not detract from the significance or excellence of the programme - in other moods, I might think differently.

Just lovely!    
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