"A most impressive new group. Their clear and unforced voices, with superb control of intonation and blend of tone, combine with an obvious musical intelligence, as evidenced by their ability to shape a musical line and give structure to a piece. Others have tried to reinterpret the medieval repertoire for soprano voices, but none as successfully as this young group." - Early Music Review
"Words of the Angel" is the debut album of an exceptional trio from Norway. The recording, made at the Evangelische Kirche, Gönningen, was produced by Hilliard Ensemble singer John Potter , who has monitored the Trio Mediaeval's development almost from the group's inception.
The Trio was formed in Oslo in 1997 and its musical direction was confirmed by intensive study with The Hilliard Ensemble at the Hilliard Summer Festival in Cambridge. John Potter recalls that "they already had that creative energy and an instinctive distinctive blend when they came to our annual summer school in 1998. This blossomed still further in subsequent visits over the next two years. Their repertoire also broadened during this period, adding a considerable amount of contemporary music to the medieval and Norwegian music that they performed with such elan. Medieval music has traditionally been the preserve of men, and the two-edged sword of authenticity hasn't made it easy for women's groups to make this music their own. The Trio's answer is to sing the music as though it is music of the present. The intense clarity and life that that they bring to it goes a long way to make up for the accident of history which forbade their sex from singing it first time around."
Through The Hilliard Ensemble , the Trio Mediaeval have come into contact with contemporary composers including Joan Metcalf, Paul Robinson, Markus Ludwig and Ivan Moody, whose "Words of the Angel" they first performed in 1998. Moody's is the sole contemporary piece on the recording, a jewel now re-set in the neighbourhood of the Messe de Tournai. Comprised of polyphonic mass movements from a 14th century manuscript, the Messe is interspersed, on this recording, with motets and songs from the same period, including several pieces from English manuscripts. Also included on the recording is monophonic music from a collection of Laude surviving in a thirteenth century manuscript from Cortona.
As Potter notes: "None of this music would have been sung by women. Medieval manuscripts show that women were just as likely as men to be singing secular music, but the unremitting hostility of the papacy to women in positions of power ensured that female religious houses could rarely support significant musical establishments. So the sound world that we enter here is an imaginary one, based on the question 'what if ...'"
***Linn Andrea Fuglseth
Born in Sandefjord, Norway, Linn Andrea completed her Higher Diploma in singing at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in 1997, specializing in baroque interpretation and writing a dissertation on Restoration Mad Songs. In 1994-95 she studied at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, receiving a diploma in Advanced Solo Studies in Early Music. She has studied singing with Mary Nichols, Emma Kirkby, Nancy Argenta, Barbro Marklund and Theresa Goble. Linn has given several performances of Norwegian contemporary music. Linn Andrea is an experienced ensemble singer and leader, as a former member of Grex Vocalis and I Madrigalisti di Oslo, conducted by Carl Høgset. She initiated Christiania Camerata, a sextet who won two 1st prizes in Tolosa, Spain in 1996. Linn Andrea started Trio Mediæval in October 1997 and she arranges the Norwegian music for the trio.
Torunn Østrem Ossum
Born in Namsos, Norway, Torunn was educated in Oslo, with a degree program in early childhood education, specializing in music and drama. She has worked as a kindergarten teacher for eight years. In 1983-84 she studied singing with Svein Bjørkøy at Rønningen County College in Oslo. Torunn has wide experience as an ensemble singer. For seven years she was a member of the Oslo chamber choir Con Spirito, conducted by Helge Birkeland, and since 1991 she has been singing with Grex Vocalis conducted by Carl Høgset, where she also sings as a soloist. Torunn is engaged in several vocal groups in and around Oslo, and with her extremely wide vocal range, she is much sought after.
Anna Maria Friman
The Swedish soprano Anna Maria Friman is currently doing a PhD at the University of York (UK), where she is researching the modern performance of medieval music. She also teaches singing and coaches vocal ensembles. Her solo engagements have taken her all over the world, and include performances with Gavin Bryars Ensemble, Peter Hill, Red Byrd, Collegium Vocale Gent and Ricercar Consort directed by Philippe Pierlot. Anna was a jury member at the vocal ensemble competition at the Tampere International Choral Festival, Finland, in 2001 and 2003. Anna has a BA in solo performance from the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo, Norway and continued her studies in London with Linda Hirst between 2000 and 2002.
Ivan Moody was born in London in 1964, and studied composition with Brian Dennis and John Tavener. Eastern liturgical chant has had a profound influence on his music, as has the spirituality of the Orthodox Church to which he belongs. The Hilliard Ensemble were early champions of his work and performed his Canticum canticorum I around the world (and later recorded it for A Hilliard Songbook), and in 1993 John Potter's Red Byrd group together with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Tõnu Kaljuste premiered his oratorio "Passion and Resurrection". Moody's cycle "Endechas y Canciones" was written for Hilliard Ensemble , premiered by them in Leipzig, and also included in their A Hilliard Songbook.
CD package includes 28-page booklet with liner notes by John Potter and complete song texts.
'For most lovers of early music, the immediate frame of reference - a small female ensemble specializing in mediaeval music - will be Anonymous Four, a widely traveled and widely recorded quartet, based in New York. Anonymous Four announced recently that it will disband at the end of next season, after 17 years of invaluable activity. So the emergence of Trio Mediaeval, here in its debut album is doubly welcome. Like Anonymous Four, Trio Mediaeval will find itself, in fact it already has, singing many pieces that would not historically have been sung by women. But so many aspects in the presentation of really early music come down to conjecture or educated guesses in the first place, that no performance can be regarded as anything more than a rough approximation of what might have been heard when the music was new. The most one can do is to perform the music so stylishly and persuasively as to disarm purists, as Anonymous Four has done so often and as Trio Medieval does in this collection, which consists mostly of anonymous music in praise of the Virgin from the 14th century. A vaguely unifying factor runs throughout the disc: one of earliest surviving manuscripts of the Roman Catholic mass, found in Tournai, Belgium - probably a compilation from different times and places. In addition, there is a new work thrown into the mix, the title track Words of the Angel, by Ivan Moody, an English composer born in 1964.'
James Oestreich, The New York Times on the Web.
Mr Oestreich's generally positive review took issue with the absence of text translations in the CD booklet: 'Unless you remember your high school Latin better than I do and unless you can grapple with bits of archaic French and Italian, you will have to puzzle out whatever meanings you can from words resembling their English counterparts. A spokeswoman for the label holds out hope that English translations may soon appear on its website. Still there is no reason not to experience the album's sheer musical pleasures in the meantime. '
We asked John Potter, the album's co-producer and himself a noted singer - for many years a member of the Hilliard Ensemble and currently leader of the Dowland Project - to address the issue of text and meaning in early music. He sent us the following remarks:
'As the person responsible for the lack of translations on this and several other ECM records, I would like to contribute a sentence or two of explanation: It's a very complicated question which I hope to return to at length in future liner notes for ECM recordings (which I hope also won't have translations beyond some brief words of explanation...).
But briefly: after years of wrestling with the problem I feel that literal translations are at best misleading, and at worst restrict the creative listening process by appearing to channel listeners' attention into meanings that are no longer there. There is never a simple semantic correlation between composer/poet, performer and listener: the 'meaning' changes at every stage in the creation of the piece. Giving a translation (...into how many languages') inevitably gives the impression that the texts are what the pieces are about. The texts are what the pieces were about - perhaps (even in the 14th century nobody would have been able to make sense of more than one text sung simultaneously). More precisely, the pieces were about the contexts in which they were sung. All that has gone: the music is re-contextualised for CD and concert performance, and the meanings that the singers are trying to communicate now are a long way from what most texts originally meant. The transmission process (if that's what it is) is completed by the listener, and this is potentially the most creative stage of the whole business: poet and composer have done their stuff, the performers have added new layers, and the listeners then take the experience into their own heads, where it is personal to them and no one else. The texts are there for people to translate themselves if they wish.'