Medieval Mystical Genius Rises Again

May 23, 2001 (Updated May 24, 2001)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great introduction to Hildegard's music for pop/new age/world music fans

Cons:Songs are often cut up, sampled, with large sections of lyrics left out.

The Bottom Line: Buy this one if you're curious about early music or Gregorian chant, but are not into the conventional a capella renditions of it.

Very seldom do I come across a new album that I feel I absolutely must have, based on a record store sound sample. This is what happened to me right before the Christmas season of 1993, when I saw the intriguing cover of this CD in the Tower Records store in the University District of Seattle. I read the blurb about Hildegard von Bingen's plainchant songs arranged with electronic instrumentation and worldbeat percussion, turned the sound sampler onto the first track, "O Virga ac Diadema", and within a minute, said to myself, "I've GOT to have this!" The album is just that compelling.

This is not a standard early music/Gregorian chant album. As well-done and well-selling as many chant albums are, an entire album of a capella plainsong has yet to really grab me. It's just not my genre. "Vision", however, is a chant album for non-chant fans. Eight-hundred-year-old devotional chants are backed by synthesizers by Richard Souther, layers of hand drums, drum sets and electronic drum programming, and layered vocals. Harmony vocals are added to songs to which harmony lines were never composed (harmony does not enter western sacred music until a couple of centuries after the lifetime of Hildegard, A.D. 1098-1179). Early music afficionados are not fond of this particular collection. But for a folk/world music/world fusion music fan, this is MY kind of early music album.

The only problem with this CD, which becomes even more blatant on its sequel, is that the lyrics of most of the songs are very truncated. Large segments of lyrics and verses are left out, and others extraneously repeated, primarily to create the right "ancient/modern fusion" effect. In fact, the mix would work just as well if more of the songs' lyrics were included in full above the modern instrumentation; this is beautifully demonstrated in the full-length title track "Vision (O Euchari in Leta Via)" which closes the album. This would have resulted in fewer, longer but better tracks, and eliminated the need for the two contemporary instrumentals, which seem largely irrelevant to the rest of the chant tracks. Overall, however, it is a very fine introduction to early music (Hildegard's renegade composition of it, in any case) for many people who would not necessarily buy most traditional plainchant albums.

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