Hildegard Transfigured review – migraines and monodic lines as medieval mystic’s music is centre stage | Classical music
The 12th and 21st centuries coalesced in this performance by the trio , with music by the medieval mystic and saint Hildegard of Bingen interlaced with contemporary vocal works inspired by her. Central to the theatricality of their presentation were Chris Tomsett’s animated images screened as a background, so as to give a sense of the visions that characterised Hildegard’s own spirituality, visions which neurologists suggest may have been the sensory symptoms of .
Victoria Couper, Clemmie Franks and Emily Burn have a finely honed sound, pure and silvery, plus the occasional warmer bloom. Carrying candles as they processed into the darkened hall, opening with Hildegard’s antiphon O successores and the responsorium Favus distillans and then moving into Marcus Davidson’s Musical Harmony, they created an evocative atmosphere. Hildegard’s flowing monodic lines also prefaced works by Tim Lea Young, Stevie Wishart – who, as the editor of Hildegard’s works, her own affinity very clear – and Emily Levy. Mostly conceived in three parts, imbued with the spirit of Hildegard but with spikes of dissonance, these highlighted the contrast between past and present while, in the accompanying visuals, there was a similar differentiation between living images – leaves, trees and flowers – to identify Hildegard and more abstract patterning for the new music.
For composerthe challenge was even more personal: herself a migraine sufferer, Moody chose to set seven extracts from translations of Hildegard’s letters so as to build a picture of a flesh-and-blood, feisty proto-feminist, a philosopher who argued that women and men were equal in the eyes of God. Threaded individually through the hour-long concert, each piece emerged vividly, with The Living Light giving the culminating climactic finale. They would surely be heard to greater effect again in unbroken sequence.
Voice’s graceful presence, their haunting delivery, the feat of memory involved, were all notable. Ultimately though, the possibility of being lulled into a suitably entranced state was countered by the psychedelic busyness of the images – distracting and, ironically, almost migraine-inducing.