Vox Clamantis: Filia Sion (ECM New Series 2244)

Filia Sion

Vox Clamantis
Filia Sion

Vox Clamantis
Jaan-Eik Tulve conductor
Recorded September 2010, Dome Church of St. Nicholas, Haapsalu
Engineer: Igor Kirkwood
Editing: Margo Kõlar
Recording supervision: Helena Tulve
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

O wisest Virgin,
where art thou going in this deepest red of dawn?

Estonian vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis shares its passion for Gregorian chant in an album dedicated to the Daughter of Zion. Directed by Jaan-Eik Tulve (husband of composer Helena), who sees precise blending as the foundation for purposeful singing, Vox Clamantis adds subtlest gold leafing to the program’s Marian repertoire. Remarkable in this regard is the use of overtone singing, an unlikely technique begotten through the spirit of improvisation during rehearsal. It is employed to glorious effect in two 12th-century pieces by Magister Perotinus and Hildegard von Bingen. As the twin hearts of the album, they shine with the depth of conception, mysterious and divine.

Polyphonous textures are only occasional throughout the program, appearing noticeably in the “Rex virginum,” which comes from the 13th-century Codex Las Huelgas of Spain. Cycling between two-part harmonies and plainchant, its timbral cast magnifies sanctity with sanctity. The motet “O Maria”—from another codex (from Montpellier) of the same period—gilds kindred geometry, while the tenors of “Prelustri elucentia” (by Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz, c1400-c1480) bind linearly, like the ligament of a spiritual body. The album’s final piece, a Jewish chant from Cochin entitled “Ma navu,” comes as a revelation that flows from chest to sky through c(h)ords of light.

Most of the album is rooted in plainsong, and few ensembles extol its unifying force with the grace of Vox Clamantis. The thickness of the monophonic pieces, and these performances of them, is such that polyphony would seem an overwhelming embellishment. Rather than muddy the waters, the singers clarify them, moving antiphonally between solo and tutti passages. Each chant feels torn from a book of shadows, so that it might be inscribed with light. This record comes long after a wave of chant albums that flooded the New Age market in the mid- to late 1990s. Unlike those transients, the present disc is set fully in its proper context. Its heartfelt prayer is for circularity: ashes to ashes, voice to voice.

The people of the nations that lay in darkness
rise up at the joy of so renowned a birth.

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