Trio Mediaeval: Stella Maris (ECM New Series 1929)


Trio Mediaeval
Stella Maris

Anna Maria Friman soprano
Linn Andrea Fuglseth soprano
Torunn Østrem Ossum soprano
Recorded February 2005 at Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Recording producer: John Potter
Executive Producer: Manfred Eicher

For their third ECM outing, the sopranos of Trio Medieaval set their vocal sights to 12fth- and 13th-century French and English (mostly conductus) chants, nestling within these a newly commissioned mass from Korean-born Sungji Hong. That the former (with one exception) performed here were never meant to be sung—or, for that matter, heard—by women at the time of their composition matters not when basking in the vitality of this recording: further proof that music is open to all who touch it, just as those who are touched by it become open to all.

In her liner notes, Nicky Losseff rightly speaks of sweetness, for one cannot help but savor in the fragrant wash of polyphony that is the opening Flos regalis virginalis. This, along with the protractions of Veni creator spiritus and the Beata viscera, comprise some of the program’s most affecting moments. Haunting also are the sustained drone of O Maria, stella maris and the transportive strains of Dou way Robyn.

Yet the most crystalline pillars in this house of mist and time resolve themselves in Hong’s beautiful Missa Lumen de lumine. Written in 2002 and dedicated to the Trio, it grows like vines in ruins grown truer with age. Like the light of its title, this mass is composed of prismatic strands, some of which unify in single threads of chant and others of which refract, visualizing the nature of their own splitting. Between the heavenly Gloria and Agnus Dei, one is left drifting in these precise rhythms and changes. Hong is highly respectful of the texts of the Mass Ordinary and forms of each line a secret braid, ending often with a subtle flourish in the spirit.

Anonymity in music is purity, filled with hope and the sparkle with wisdom. It allows us to strip music of its egotism and appreciate it as something out of place, if not out of time, and therefore of the world. In listening, we become the music’s inhabitants, not in a relationship of power, but of recognition. When paired with a highly composed work like Hong’s, the surrounding chants indeed take on a luminous quality, forever drawn to a heaven of undying voices. This is the magic that Trio Mediaeval brings to every note sung, and this just might be the most intimately appropriate album with which to begin that journey.

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