Trio Mediaeval: Words of the Angel (ECM New Series 1753)

 

Trio Mediaeval
Words of The Angel

Anna Maria Friman soprano
Linn Andrea Fuglseth soprano
Torunn Østrem Ossum soprano
Recorded December 1999, Gönningen
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by John Potter

The fourteenth-century Messe de Tournai is the earliest extant polyphonic mass and provides the skeleton for this debut release by Trio Mediaeval. In his accompanying notes, John Potter (who also produced the album) stresses that the survival of such a manuscript is something of a miracle. Written on the backs of ledgers, the mass could easily have suffered the destructive fate to which most such music succumbed in an age where paper was a precious commodity. That it emerged from a war-torn Europe unscathed is likely “because a conscientious accountant couldn’t bear to throw away old financial records.” An overtly Marian theme pervades this disc, as evidenced by the English-sourced motets and sequences leaved between the Mass, and further in a selection of lauds from thirteenth-century Cortona.

Three solos dot the program, each surrounded by luminescent swaths of divine vibrations. Of the chants, Salve mater misericordie is the brightest, and refracts light like a window into the Trio’s further projects. The words “Stella Maris” clearly stand out here, foreshadowing the title of their third album, while the cover art (a still from Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma) cues their second, Soir dit-elle. The Mass itself rests on a delicately consonant edge, ladling our attention between voices and the echoes they project. Nestled like a diamond in an already captivating program is the title piece by Ivan Moody. Dramatic key changes and a snake-like alto core make it one of the most intriguing pieces the Trio has recorded thus far.

Hailing from Norway, Trio Mediaeval honed their craft through focused study with the Hilliard Ensemble, who seem to have passed on not a small amount of adventurous spirit. Often compared with the now defunct Anonymous 4, the Trio walk a striking musical path uniquely their own. Sinuous drones and anchoring lines are gloriously configured, and articulations rendered with vivid care. Words of the angel deserve to be sung by voices of the angel, and here they most certainly are.

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