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HALL OF FAMEon 20 December 2005
The music on this CD comes from the great Hildegard of Bingen, one of the towering female figures from the Middle Ages. Hildegard is not only one of the few women whose name has come down to us from the Middle Ages, but one of the few composers of any sort whose name survives together with his or her compositions. Hildegard was a sort of Renaissance woman before the Renaissance, whose fame spread in her lifetime such that she was advisor of monarchs and popes, as well as a significant creative and mystical figure.
Between 1150 and 1160, she composed and collected poetry and musical works under the title 'Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations'. Much of her music was monophonic in nature, and tied to the liturgy. The Anonymous 4 in their performance sometimes add polyphonic embellishments and vocal drones to chants and psalmody.
Hildegard's abbey possessed relics of St. Ursula, and Hildegard wrote many pieces in honour of the saint to be performed by the women of her abbey. This particular recording of women's voices doing these pieces is therefore quite natural and back to the original intent of Hildegard's compositions.
Hildegard's style is unique, as are the vocal talents of the Anonymous 4 - the combination here is something that approaches perfection.
-- Liner Notes --
This text accompaniment to this disc is very full, so much so that the booklet is not contained within the jewel case, but rather within a slipcover in which both the CD/jewel case and the booklet reside. The liner notes include a description of the work, a brief piece about the quartet, and the lyrics of the songs both in original language and in translation - all repeated in English, German, and French sections.
-- Anonymous 4 --
Contrary to the implication of their name, the Anonymous 4 are not anonymous. This is a vocal quartet made up of Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, and Johanna Rose at the time of this recording (Ruth Cunningham will later go on to a solo career early, and another member will join - Jacqueline Horner). They came together as a formal group in 1986, and have been ensemble-in-residence at St. Michael's Church in New York City, giving concert series in New York as well as throughout North America. They have been featured a number of times on national media in North America as well as Germany. They then went on to yet more success, eventually performing more that 1000 concerts worldwide.
Their specialty is working with chant, monophonic and polyphonic music, and working with medieval texts. According to one source, 'The group takes its name from an anonymous music theorist of the late 13th century, Anonymous IV, who is the principal source on the two famous composers of the Notre Dame school, Léonin and Pérotin.'
The group ended a touring career of nearly two decades in 2004.
11 comment|9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
There are more than enough recordings of Hildegard knocking about, and to stand out from the crowd might need something a little different. Anonymous 4 have chosen here to put some of her compositions in context.

The works selected are hymns, sequences, responsories and antiphons dedicated to Saint Ursula, alongside contemporary liturgical pieces for Vigil (midnight), Lauds (morning) and Vespers (evening) services on her feast day.

The notes state that "We believe that hearing Hildegard's works in this setting is an effective way to recreate the powerful impression they made on their first audience". To do this however the quartet has added a drone voice or polyphonic embellishments to Hildegard's pieces to distinguish them from the other plainchant - a beautiful effect, but probably not authentic?

The album in total suffers slightly from sameyness. Other interpreters of Hildegard have tended to vary the personnel from piece to piece, but the same four vocalists every time doesn't draw arraction to this disc quite so much.

Don't get me wrong, this is a decent disc, but in my opinion there are other Hildegard recordings to check out ahead of this and the other Anonymous 4 disc The Origin of Fire. There is the three decades old recording by the Gothic Voices with Emma Kirkby, A feather on the breath of God, which kicked off something of a craze for Hildegard. Furthermore there is an excellent three disc series by Stevie Wishart and Sinfonye (beginning with The Complete Hildegard von Bingen, Vol.1) as well as a series of recordings by German medieval specialists Sequentia (re-released in the 8 disc boxed set Sequentia: Hildegard von Bingen).

The booklet provides some notes, plus full Latin sung texts and translations along with an introductory paragraph or two of notes for each piece.
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on 8 July 2013
As a Mediaeval historian and a Catholic, I find this inspirational and a good aid to relaxation. To lie back on my Study chaise longue and just let the purity of the female voices and the devotion of the words is truly restorative. Thank you.
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on 23 October 2015
The article is not like I expected, according to the internet photos. This record edition should come with a small book and CD case and everything inside a cardboard box. What I heard is only one album in a common CD case. Left somewhat disappointed.
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on 10 April 2013
A delightful and soothing celebration of the Feast of St Ursula. Pleasent to listen to while reading or working (shame about the OTT title)
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on 21 January 2016
bought this for my sister and it is hauntingly beautiful
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