Top positive review
44 people found this helpful
on 17 February 2004
Hildegard's music can be performed in many different ways. There's the 'purist' approach, that seeks to use top-class vocalists such as Emma Kirkby ('Gothic Voices') - who isn't on this album - in arrangements that come as close to the original as possible. The problem is, we simply don't know how the music really sounded when Hildegard wrote it. If you're a specialist, you'll already know why that is. But if you're not, it's all to do with the problems of interpreting the original manuscripts, and guesswork about what instrumentation Hildegard may have used. And we don't know how good Hildegard's nuns were at singing. The chances that any of them came close to technical virtuosi like Kirkby are pretty small.
One thing's for sure, though. Saint Hildegard - one of the most amazing and interesting women in recorded history - didn't have a bank of synthesisers, bass guitar samples, and sequencing machines back in the twelfth century. But, if they had been available to her, I think she would probably have made good use of them. She wrote books on science, sexuality, animals, healing, indeed all manner of things, as well as religious works, paintings, a secret language, songs, plays and letters to Emperors and Popes. Would such a woman say "No electricity in my convents, thank you very much"? I don't think so. She might well have seen the opportunity to use such facilities to discuss and glorify God and the universe.
For that reason, I think this recording is not really any less 'authentic' than the supposedly purer ones. The modernised arrangemnets here are hardly "Heavy Metal Madness, featuring the Nuns of Bingen"; the synths etc complement the vocals very delicately and effectively indeed.
I wouldn't say this is the *only* way to record Hildegard's music, for that would be very foolish. But it makes it very accessible to a modern audience, and I think it adds a new dimension to her work. If you don't have any other Hildegard works, I'd say start with this one, because it's very pleasant to listen to and it's likely to make you want to hear - and read - a lot more. If you know the 'purer' versions, I'd still say listen to it, because it's a different perspective on the material. And Hildegard herself often approached the same subject from various angles. And if you start humming some of the 'hooks' that Hildegard put in her songs, well don't blame me!