Trio Mediaeval AquilonisFocusing on their pure voices, this trio fuses pieces from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries into a beautiful, resonant tapestry of calm.

Label: ECM
Time:  20 tracks / 60 mins

This Nordic trio’s work is generally a fascinating mix of the traditional and the avant-garde, but in this release, named after a northern wind, they stick largely to classical pieces, blending in some more modern songs.

You mainly get what the name suggests: three women singing mediaeval songs, from a couple of Italian twelfth-century works, through fourteenth-century Icelandic pieces from the Office of St. Thorlak, to several fifteenth-century English carols.

Despite the well-selected classical pieces, the brightest highlight for me is the short, but striking, “Ioseph Fili David,” written by long-time associate Andrew Smith. His modern-day work mixes very comfortably with the older songs (although his “Ave Regina Caelorum” sounds a little strident in places by comparison).

As if the trio does not mix up their geography and chronology enough, they add three of their own compositions. These are short ambient pieces, where they accompany themselves discreetly on portable organ, melody chimes and hardanger fiddle (which has sympathetic strings under the usual ones, so that you can hear more than one at a time).

Two beautiful fifteenth century carols that stand out are “Alleluia: A Newë Work,” which inspired Linn Andrea Fuglseth to form the group some years ago, and “Ecce Quod Natura Mutat Sua Jura,” with its warm melody and lyrics expressing astonishment that God would become man.

The liner booklet is excellent, with notes by Hilliard Ensemble singer John Potter (musical supervisor here) and carefully composed translations of the Latin and Norwegian texts (even the English rhymes to match the original).

Most of the album, recorded in a monastery, is very soothing. But for those who wish to study it more closely, this work goes deeper than just being a relaxing backdrop. The singers have adapted some of the music, their pure voices transforming pieces originally sung by men, and creating polyphony where it did not originally exist.

Trio Medieval have curated a fine collection of pieces from all over Europe and right across the centuries. They sing it impeccably, and – as usual with ECM releases – Manfred Eicher has masterfully managed a mix that is as clear and fresh as springwater.

Derek Walker

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