The Latvian Gregorian and Medieval music ensemble Schola Cantorum Riga, directed by Guntars Prānis, have, throughout their more than two decades of performing, established themselves as exceptional interpreters of early music. On their most recent album – 2020’s Vox Clara, the group presented recordings of chants from multiple European cities – not just Riga, but from Hamburg, Lund, Limoges, among others, and many of the texts have Christmas themes.
Many of the songs are performed with musical accompaniment, such as ‘Res est admirabilis’ from Limoges, which is introduced by a steady drumbeat provided by percussionist Ansis Klucis, as well as Ieva Nīmane playing the recorder, and Prānis performing the hurdy gurdy (an ancient, hand cranked string instrument). The accompaniment gives the performance a dance-like atmosphere and is a celebratory beginning to the album.
Nīmane also provides a kokle accompaniment for the performance of ‘Miserere mei’, based on text from Psalm 51. This prayer for mercy, combined with the ethereal sound of the kokle, creates a deeply spiritual atmosphere, as the vocals alternate between the unison Gregorian and the Falsobordone harmonies.
Mythological creatures appear in the text of ‘Unicornis captivatur’, from the Codex Engelberg. The solemn, occasionally even violent, tale of captured unicorns and hydras consuming crocodiles, is punctuated by a steady drum, like a heartbeat, creating a performance rich with mythical and fantastic imagery.
The soaring countertenor of Rūdolfs Bērtiņš imbues ‘Respondemos’, a Sephardic song from Spain, with deep reverence, and provides a gracefully flowing performance, while soloist Jānis Kurševs, in ‘Gaude Maria’, a song of rejoicing, provides quiet, yet powerful vocals.
‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’, an antiphon from Cambrai, France, is presented both in Latin and archaic Latvian. As Prānis notes in his introduction to the CD, in the Late Medieval period, the local language would often appear alongside the original Latin, and one of the goals of this recording is to present what these Medieval chants and songs might have sounded like in Latvia centuries ago.
The CD liner notes also contain all the texts (in Latin, English and Latvian), and some very brief notes about the texts and where they originated. The booklet could have gone into more detail about the works, since some listeners may not be familiar with the sources – for example, what the ‘Missale Rigense’ was, or the ‘Codex Saint Martial de Limoges’.
Besides being a recording of the highest quality, with Schola Cantorum Riga displaying their singular talents in performing early vocal music, Vox Clara also provides for a fascinating historical journey through the music of Europe, creating an absorbing listening experience. The ensemble and leader Guntars Prānis vividly present songs that are both solemn as well as celebratory, performing both with beauty and vitality.
For more information, please visit the Schola Cantorum Riga website.
Schola Cantorum Riga
LMIC/SKANI 085, 2020
- Res est admirabilis
- Vox clara
- Ingrediente Domino
- Kyrie eleison ymas
- Miserere mei
- Unicornis captivatur
- Uterus hodie
- Veni Sancte Spiritus
- Plangas cum lacrimis
- Quasi stella matutina
- Alleluya alto re di gloria
- Gaude Maria