Gothic Voices: Mary Star of the Sea

Mary Star of the Sea
Gothic Voices
Linn CKD541. 74’00

CKD 541 iTUNES SLEEVE FINAL smallJoanne Metcalf: Il nome del bel fior;
Andrew Smith: Stond wel, Moder, under rode; and pieces by Godric of Finchale, Leonel Power, Dunstaple, Richard Smert, and Anonymous.

This beautiful recording contrasts music by contemporary composers Joanne Metcalf and Andrew Smith with 12th to 15th century settings of Marian texts, many of them anonymous.

The first part explores the mythical and spiritual qualities of Mary, with three extracts from Joanne Metcalf’s Il nome del bel fior (a ten-part setting of extracts from Dante’s Paradiso) together with her Music for the star of the sea. The opening track is particularly beautiful, with Catherine King singing Joanne Metcalf’s haunting meditation on the single word ‘Maria’. The earlier pieces reflect the different musical styles that were developing during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The second part focuses on the more human aspects of Mary, notably with the thirteenth-century setting of the Middle English poem Stond wel, Moder, under rode (c1250) and its dialogue between Mary and Jesus. Andrew Smith’s setting of the same sequence of verses, with its tightly wrought four-part harmonies, form a contemporary reflection on Mary as the mother of Jesus. It is divided into two parts, the second being more intense than the first. Also included is one of ‘Godric’s Hymns’, Kyrie / Crist and Sainte Marie, the earliest known English-language text to survive with its melody, written during ‘Saint’ Godric’s 60 years sojourn as a hermit in Finchale, Durham.

The recording concludes with a Gregorian chant setting of Gaude, Maria virgo and the powerful anonymous 13th century rondellus, Alleluia psallat / Alleluia concinat / Virga Jesse, the three voices of the conductus bouncing along merrily while, in a nice reflection of the opening track, the intervening plainchant verse is sung by the solo voice of Catherine King.

GOTHICS-158 copyThe music of the two contemporary composers was particularly well chosen, both adopting and varying a recognisably mediaeval musical style without in any way approaching pastiche. The four singers of Gothic Voices (Catherine King mezzo-soprano, Steven Harrold tenor, Julian Podger tenor, and Stephen Charlesworth baritone) produce an exceptionally good consort sound as well as impressing in their various solo roles. I particularly liked the presence of Catherine King’s gently sophisticated mezzo voice on top of the consort rather than the more usual male countertenor voice.

Whether or not you have any religious interest in the biblical figure of Mary, the music and the texts of these pieces might help to explain Mary’s importance in the mediaeval mind. More information, including a link to the complete CD booklet, can be found here. The release date is 23 September 2016.

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