Music for the Soul CD


In Music for the SoulLumina perform choral works which ‘reach deeply into the soul and enable a deep sense of order in both self and the world at large’ (Plato, The Republic,Book III). St Augustine of Hippo observed that music lifted him to a higher plain of piety, and that ‘all the varying emotions of my spirit have modes proper to them in voice and song’ (Confessions, Book X). For thousands of years, vocal music has proven its ability to nourish and inspire the soul. For their first CD, Lumina have chosen 14 inspiring works spanning 800 years.

The earliest example comes from the abbess Hildegard of Bingen, whose Spiritus Sanctus (Holy Spirit, giver of life) is one of many ecstatic chant compositions produced by her at her Rhineland abbey, and heard again in recent years after long neglect. A similar, though more structured, composition, from the monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia, is O Virgo Splendens (O Holy Maiden, radiant from this mountain), one of the songs of the pilgrims to the shrine of the Black Madonna. This anonymous work is included with other pilgrim songs and liturgical chants in the 'Red Book' of Montserrat (late 14th century). From just a little later is Guillaume Dufay's setting of the great hymn to Mary, Ave Maris Stella (Hail, Star of the Sea). Using an older chant melody, Dufay adds his own harmonies in alternate verses, to typically jubilational, if austere, effect.

The profound and balanced beauty of the music of Josquin des Pres, which set the scene for the rich outpouring of choral composition in the 16th century, appeals greatly to singers. Three of his compositions are featured here: settings of Agnus Dei (Lamb of God, have mercy, grant peace) from two Masses, and the majestic Christmas motet Praeter Rerum Seriem (Beyond Nature's order, a maiden bore the divine child).

The theme of the soul as suffering in its search for light and peace underlies the two baroque items performed. Hear my prayer, O Lord of Henry Purcell is a sustained cry for aid in time of trouble. The Crucifixus (He was crucified for us) of Antonio Lotti depicts the human anguish of the dying Jesus. In complementary contrast, Lay a Garland by Robert Lucas Pearsall pictures a serene and loving burial for one who has nobly borne a deep wrong. The musical style reaches back to the flowing harmonic world of 16th century polyphony, which had begun to be 'recovered' in the 19th century, along with other 'antique' arts and crafts. So powerful was this influence that William Harris's Faire is the Heaven, from a century later, paints eternal joys using merely a more complicated or adventurous version of this same style. Equally, what is added by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the mysterious soliloquy of The Lover's Ghost is just the voice of the traditional folk-lament.

Homage to past practice is evident also in the three Antipodean contemporary works. Virtus Sapientiae (O power of Wisdom, all-embracing, deserving praise) is a composition of Lumina Director Anna Pope. The words and style are Hildegard's, and the lively chant is used to suggest the range and power of the human soul. New Zealand-born Clare Maclean, in her substantial early work Christ the King, uses liturgical chant, webs of sound and block chords in varying patterns to carry mystical poetry describing the divine summons. Differently impressive is Kondalilla from the 'Great Southern Spirits' choral sequence of Stephen Leek. The inspiration is from Australian indigenous mythology, where Kondalilla and Ouyen are spirits that are discerned in the natural powers of waters, moving or still. Much of the choral singing is set down melodically, with phrases combining according to choices of the individual singers, creating waterfalls and chance splashes of sound.

Indeed, much of the music here flows creatively around forms, styles and melodies that are taken as constants. We offer this music for the soul, hoping to evoke not only varying moods of the spirit resonating and responding to modes of voice and song, but also the deep sense of order wrought by musical art.

Bernard Mageean

Price: $16.00