Academic and composer Stevie Wishart has edited and recorded the complete works of the recently beatified 12th-century mystic and composer Abbess Hildegard of Bingen over the last 20 years. She collaborates here with electronica producer Guy Sigsworth on a “creative re-imagining of a choral evensong”. Released with an eye on the crossover/new age audience, the disc may make purists recoil in horror but Wishart has never been afraid to allow some creative license in her interpretation of the melismatic neumes.
Most of the content of this album features unadorned monodic chant performed by the six pure but characterful voices of Sinfonye, interspersed with Wishart’s tasteful reworkings “alio modo” (another way). One of Wishart’s original compositions, a particularly impressive polyphonic setting of the Magnificat, turns out to be the highlight of the disc, showing off the expressive range of the ensemble to better effect than the restrained chanting nun material surrounding it – indeed, I wished for more of this sort of polyphonic elaboration throughout.
Some of the instrumental contributions come perilously close to 1970s folk/rock doodlings. And beware of two tracks where the producer has been allowed his head; Azeruz and ZuuenZ – generic ambient electronic soundscapes more appropriate for a chill-out lounge. However, most of the producer’s contributions are inoffensive – some big washy reverb here, a few subtle delay effects there – all surprisingly low-key. Indeed the sound is superb, as one would expect from Decca.
There have been too many early music/new age crossover projects lately that I would gleefully throw in the eurotrash bin but this release is miles above that standard and deserves an unbiased listen.