Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens
divine art dda 25077
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Missa Veni Sponsa Christi (Palestrina)
Lamentations for Holy Saturday (Book 3) (Palestrina)
Magnificat Sexti Toni (De Rore)
with motets by Palestrina and Rore and chants for The Feast of St Agnes
If you’ve come home after a terrible day at the office or, if you’ve spent hours in the kitchen getting the cake mix just right only to have it come from the oven a charred ruin, then don’t turn to Valium or take it out on the cat. There’s a much better option available.
It needs to be said at once, though, that the alternative offered could also be habit forming – but it’s an addiction that is entirely beneficial and can be thoroughly recommended. Toss the pills into the bin and give the cat his dinner – then put this CD on, sit back and let it work its soothing magic. An added bonus is that you don’t have to be musically literate – although that, of course, helps – to derive great listening pleasure from it.
Not the least of the many fine features of this recording are first rate liner notes which throw fascinating light on the lives and work of nuns in 16th and 17th century European convents where music, in inextricable association with prayer, was a constant companion in up to eight prayer services per 24 hours.
In the popular imagination, the notion of nuns regularly singing complex polyphony barely exists. So, this recording is timely if only for that reason.
Of course, the lion’s share of sacred vocal music was written specifically for male voices. A fair amount of this, though, was – and is – also sung by women. And if the range was too low, then it was not particularly unusual for the music to be transposed upwards to accommodate the available voices. This presentation goes some way to redressing these widespread misapprehensions.
As well, there is also a view that composers of the time wrote little vocal music specifically for women. But think of Vivaldi who spent much of his working life in an orphanage for girls for whom the Red Priest wrote innumerable works, instrumental as well as vocal.
The contents of Sacred Hearts and Secret Music are sung with an unpretentious artistry that allows the music to make maximum impact on the listener. It deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience; it is a most notable addition to the recorded canon of sacred music