Reviewed by David Lynch, Fri., April 5, 2002
Trio MediaevalWords of the Angel (ECM) What's the first thing you think of when you hear Gregorian chants? Sure, incense, candle shadows, and high-ceiling cathedrals. But don't you also invariably picture mendicant monks, that is, only men? Thank the church establishment for that, since women's sacred music was restricted in the Middle Ages. This is one reason that Words of the Angel, a collection of female-sung mono- and polyphonic European songs from the 1200-1300s, is worthwhile. Merit for this debut is also earned by the vocal gifts of Norwegian sopranos Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth, and Torunn Østrem Ossum. Nearly a third of Words of the Angel's 20 tracks originate from a 14th-century mass manuscript, while the rest are motets and songs from the same period, including three tracks where each vocalist shines in a solo light. "Credo" finds the trio's voices flowing and intermingling like three spring sparrows in flight, and their intonation on "Sanctus" is as clean and clear as Waterford crystal. The sheer vocal dynamics of the title track -- composed especially for Trio Mediaeval by English composer Ivan Moody (who studied with John Tavener) -- would make Leonardo da Vinci's jaw drop. Words of the Angel was astutely recorded in Evangelische Kirche in Gönningen, Germany, and possesses that rich cathedral reverb. Perhaps the last remarkable thing about Words of the Angel is that it's taken eight centuries to take flight. Then again, when one thinks of an angel, a woman usually comes to mind.