Thursday, March 31, 2011

In review--Graceful Lady

Trio Mediaeval
A Worcester Ladymass
ECM New Series

The first time I listened to a Trio Medieval recording (Stella Maris), I ended up with a strange dog in my apartment. As soon as I slipped the disk and turned up the volume, I heard a crashing sound on my front door. When I opened the door, a large Alaskan dog entered my small apartment. Fortunately, the dog seemed mesmerized by the polyphonic vocals coming out of the speakers and stayed calm until its human companion showed up to retrieve him. The reason why I’m sharing this dog and music tale is because I too found Trio Mediaeval interpretation of sacred medieval chants mesmerizing. The three Nordic women voices (Ana Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torrun Ă˜strem Ossum), fit together so well, that we can only call the overall effect alchemical.

Returning from a four year hiatus (the trio’s last release was Folk Songs on ECM New Series in 2007) this time around the trio interprets and performs the Ladymass of Worcester, England. Not uncommon with medieval music, the chants of the mass were found piecemeal with sections missing, Credo and Benedicamus Domino which were replaced by modern compositions by Gavin Bryars. And to be honest, the chants flow together seamlessly, the old and the new. Since early music scholars contribute much guesswork in regard to how medieval chants were performed, Trio Mediaeval followed the vocalists’ intuitive hunches. Anna Maria Friman cited in the liner notes, “It is impossible to know what this music would have sounded like in the middle-ages, and therefore impossible to re-create a medieval vocal sound.”  This allowed the vocalists the same freedom they would enjoy with contemporary music, according to the liner notes.

As a listener, I’m impressed with the trio’s interpretations which do sound modern to my ears, not unlike Anonymous 4’s interpretations of medieval chants. The human voice is probably the most powerful instrument in our musical repertoire and on this recording it's the only instrument presented with the exception of melody chimes on Benedicta/Virgo Dei genitix and Agnus Dei. While most of the chants are polyphonic, the vocalists also perform monophonic chants sung in solo or collective voice, adding to a lovely texture.

While no animals showed up at my apartment this time around, A Worcester Ladymass proves just as mesmerizing as Stella Maris. The entire recording is sung in Latin which radiates holiness. But even if sacred music doesn’t interests you, don’t miss out on the sheer beauty of these alchemical vocals. I’m not surprised that major music magazines have lauded Trio Mediaeval with critical praise. The vocalists deserve that praise and much more. A Worchester Ladymass, more than a musical accomplishment to impress music scholars, the chants presented here fall nothing short of transcendental.