Wings of Wisdom
(Dorian, 2001)

There has been a great deal of interest in the last few years in the life and works of the 12th-century abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who was renowned for her sanctity, wisdom and creativity. She wrote on many subjects including theology, natural history and medicine. She was also a composer, setting her own beautiful poetry to music, some of which has been collected on Wings of Wisdom. She wrote in Latin, of course, but English translations of the pieces are provided in the extensive liner notes.

Also included on this CD are four tracks from The Inchcolm Antiphoner, a manuscript from the island of Inchcolm in Scotland's Firth of Forth. These are songs in celebration of St. Columba, one of the first missionaries to Scotland.

Canty is a four-woman vocal ensemble, two sopranos (Ruth Dean and Rebecca Taverner) and two mezzo-sopranos (Libby Crabtree and Anne Lewis). Their voices are well matched; when they sing in unison, it's possible to mistake them for one person. Their performance is flawless; each note is clear and precise, with no sliding between notes.

Accompaniment is provided by William Taylor, who plays the gut-strung medieval harp, the wire-strung clarsach (Celtic harp) and the symphony, a type of hurdy-gurdy played by turning a hand-crank while depressing keys. Although the bass drone of the hurdy-gurdy is actually quite annoying, Taylor's harp playing is crisp and sure. Two instrumental tracks feature Taylor on harp(s); they are a nice accent and intermission to the chant.

Although the a cappella tracks are quite nice, those in which Taylor accompanies Canty are lovely. The CD was recorded at St. Mary's Parish Church, Haddington in East Lothian, Scotland, which provides the echoing acoustics that can only be achieved in an old church.

The ethereal music on Wings of Wisdom is the perfect antidote to a vexing day.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 1 September 2001