A Worcester Ladymass,
(released on March 15, 2011)
ECM New Series 2166 | 50'59"
[Listen on NPR]
What makes this disc of interest, besides the refined, ethereal singing, is that it is a hypothetical reconstruction of a Mass for the feast of the Assumption of Mary, on August 15. (For that reason, the program inevitably recalls the two Ladymass discs by Anonymous 4, An English Ladymass and A Lammas Ladymass -- the former is one of my all-time favorite recordings of medieval music.) Worcester Cathedral was maintained by a community of Benedictine monks, until the 16th century when they were driven out by Henry VIII, and the Virgin Mary was the patroness of their monastery, the Abbey of St. Mary's. The concert includes settings of the Proper and other Marian texts, with some plainchants taken from a 13th-century Worcester gradual, plus settings of the Ordinary (the editions used here were prepared by musicologist Nicky Losseff, of the University of York, one of the group's regular collaborators). Faced with the missing parts, a Credo and a Benedicamus Domino, Trio Medieval commissioned new settings by contemporary composer Gavin Bryars (completed in 2008), with whom they have also collaborated before. His compositions, rather than sticking out, merge seamlessly with the older music.
The ECM sound is, as usual, impeccable, captured in the delectable acoustic of the Propstei St. Gerold in Austria, where a number of the label's artists record. The booklet, however, is not particularly helpful on a number of counts, not least because the Latin texts are printed in the booklet without English translation (other listeners might object to this more strongly than I). This seems to reflect the indifference of the musicians to the original Catholic context of this music, a point on which the liner notes, for example, are somewhat evasive. The group's self-avowed mission is to interpret these pieces not as medieval music but as contemporary music -- thus the pairing with new music.
Trio Mediaeval will undertake a brief North American tour later this month (March 23 to 31), with visits to Toronto, Kansas City (Mo.), University Park (Pa.), and Dartmouth College -- but not to Washington.