Nine of the eleven chants offered here were recorded during a concert given in April of 1994 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. O rubor sanguinis was recorded live a month before, and O viriditas digiti Dei was taken from a January 1995 concert. All selections here were originally released on an SKR Classical disc (SKR 1803-2) in 1996, which is, presumably, no longer available. On the heels of that CD Lyrichord issued a studio recording of Hildegard works featuring this same soprano singing eleven chants. This latter effort duplicated two of the selections here, O rubor sanguinis and O Eccclesia. The Lyrichord performances of these two are marginally superior to the ones here. That said, if you are a Hildegard devotee, this disc is as indispensable as the Lyrichord, not least because it contains the only recording of O viriditas digiti Dei I know of.
But the disc is valuable for two other reasons: the performances are generally excellent; and they present Hildegard's specialized idiom with the electricity-in-the-air atmosphere of the live concert, a venue you might expect to handicap the delicate ecstasies, the mesmeric religiosity of her profound yet simple art. But the concert stage, despite occasional intrusive coughs and other audience noise, enhances Hildegard's mysticism here, or at least inspires Soprano Gentile to impart an intensity to much of her singing to counterbalance the rough edges not found in her studio performances. She sings the first two chants, O virtus Sapientie and O viridissima virga, with an impassioned yet never overwrought fervor. It's as if you sense a very subtle undercurrent of tension or agitation. This restive character seems to dominate the latter half of O coruscans lux stellarum, as well. Yet, all the music here is also quite soothing, quite contemplative. I have said Hildegard's art is simple, but, oxymoron or no, it is also complex and multifaceted.
The performance of O viriditas digiti Dei is another gem, the drone chorus, used here in several selections, effectively underpinning Ms. Gentile's beautiful and committed rendering. O Ecclesia is another splendid performance, again featuring a bit more intensity than its Lyrichord counterpart, if a bit less control.
With the recent avalanche of Hildegard recordings, this CD faces stiff competition, most notably from the Anonymous 4 on Harmonia Mundi, and from the just-issued Delos disc by the female half of the Voices of Ascension. Still, this disc is not to be overlooked, especially if you prefer the more intimate approach to Hildegard's music that a soloist offers. Full texts, decent notes and excellent sound reproduction round out this splendid release. Strongly recommended.
Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings