Time Of The Templars - Hildegard Of Bingen, Vogelweide
This triple CD box set is testimony, in part at least, to the sterling work that Naxos have been doing over the last decade not only for early music in general but for many performers from all over the world who would otherwise have remained little known to us. Several of them are represented here and their work is astonishingly varied, often controversial but always exciting and worth hearing. This is a compilation box and it comes with all the frustrations and pleasures you might expect. It is after all meant as a stimulus to buyers to investigate the work of these groups. On the other hand it could be seen by some purchasers as constituting the early music section of their collection.
A wide range of styles are represented but with many gaps, mostly in the area of very early music associated with the flourishing heyday of the mysterious Knights Templar from the late 11th century to the late 14th century. The history of this organization is cleverly traced throughout the individual booklets that go with each CD. Let’s take them one by one although some of the pieces are interchangeable and could have been placed on any of the discs.
Music for a Knight takes in 20 tracks ranging from Troubadour and Trouvère songs to Hildegard of Bingen. You can also encounter examples from the Cantigas of Santa Maria compiled under the auspices of King Alfonso the Wise of Spain as well as some scurrilous songs from medieval Germany as drawn from the Carmina Burana manuscript.
My only gripe is that Naxos seems to think that the listener’s concentration span is no more than about three minutes. Although much medieval music is quite short where Naxos have an opportunity for a long piece, say with Pérotin’s great ‘Viderunt Omnes’ they, unforgivably fade it out despite the fact that there is clearly ample time left on the disc for the complete work. Shame on you Naxos.
The performances are all excellent, vibrant and well chosen. I have especially enjoyed the sheer bacchanalian joy radiating from the Carmina Burana pieces. These are performed by the youthful Unicorn ensemble who really let their hair down in an orgy of noise. More sober is the ethereal music of Hildegard whose soaring melodies are lovingly tendered by Jeremy Summerly’s Oxford Camerata. It seems odd that we are left with one solo lute piece at the very end rather out of place with the rest and never pursued on other discs. It is sad that Shirley Rumsey is not heard a little more.
Music of the Church - was Hildegard and Perotin not music for the church? - consists entirely of Gregorian chant. This is beautifully and idiomatically sung, as you might expect, by the Nova Schola Gregoriana. The pieces chosen dot around the liturgical year in a dizzying array. For example track 5 is a Gradual ‘Dirigatur’ using words set for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (as it is now calculated). That is followed by ‘Domine, Dominus Noster’ for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost.
The disc is sectioned into Introits, Graduals, Offertories, Communion prayers etc. The CD booklet, states clearly which Sunday or festive day each chant belongs to and what is of interest. However as with the other two discs no texts are supplied.
The third and final disc is entitled ‘Music for the Mediterranean’. If you have been to Malta or Cyprus - both islands owned by the Templars - you may well have been to one or other of the museums devoted to their history. So what music did they encounter on their travels? This disc intends to tell you. Of especial interest are the recordings of traditional music and pieces from Turkey and Cyprus performed by the Oni Wytars ensemble: very authentic, very ethnic. It’s interesting to compare their approach to the sound of the pieces on CD 1 from the court of Alfonso the Wise. We know that the Crusaders brought back instruments from the Middle East to Western Europe - the lute, the nackers, the crumhorn. They also brought back performing styles: things that might have reminded them of their travels. That said, I found the Traditional Syrian 'Dinaresade' (track 3) far too long at over thirteen minutes (compare with the Perotin on CD1). The little pieces by Adam de la Halle suddenly chucked in at the end of the disc (weighing in at less than five minutes) are far too short to give an accurate representation. Anyway I wonder to myself why is de la Halle - the so called founder of opera with his ‘musical’ Le Jeu de Robin et Marian - not represented on CD 1? Nevertheless the CD does offer some rare and fascinating material which helps to paint a much fuller picture of music in this particular period, a picture which we in the West are often not a party to.
Recordings are clear and have a suitable ambience. The presentation of the box is attractive and well thought out except that reading the titles and certainly the performer’s names through the red print on the back of the cases needs a very strong magnifying glass.
-- Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: 8503192
Composer: Adam de la Halle, Alfons X (El Sabio), Anonymous, Blondel de Nesle, Hildegard of Bingen, Pérotin, Raimbaut de Vaqeiras, Richard I "Coeur-de-Lion", Traditional, Walther von der Vogelweide, Yunus Emre
Conductor: Alberto Turco, Antony Pitts, Graham Derrick, Jeremy Summerly, Thomas Wimmer
Orchestra/Ensemble: Accentus Ensemble, Ensemble Oni Wytars, Ensemble Unicorn, Estampie, In Dulci Jubilo, Nova Schola Gregoriana, Oxford Camerata, Tonus Peregrinus
Performer: Carmen Cano, Manuela Schenale, Shirley Rumsey