Taking its title from Benjamin Britten’s evocative choral piece, a Hymn to the Virgin is a collection of sacred music, performed by the Schola Cantorum, a group that began its musical life in the University of Oslo in the 1970s. Under the direction of Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl, we get a program of choral music of varied provenance:
- Benjamin Britten: A Hymn to the Virgin
- Francis Poulenc: Salve Regina
- Maurice Durufle; Ubi Caritas
- Eric Whitacre: Lux aurumque
- Martin Odegaard: Komm
- Morten Lauridsen: O nata lux
- Kjell Mork Karlsen: O Magnum Mysterium
- Anton Bruckner: Ave Maria
- Sergei Rachmaninoff: Bogoroditse Devo
- Arvo Part: Bogoroditse Devo
- Ola Gjello: Tota pulchra es
- Andrew Smith: Pulchra es tu Maria
- Andrew Smith: Stabat Mater
- Trond Kverno: Stabat Mater Dolorosa
The unifying theme of most of these brief works for unaccompanied male and female voices is their dedication to the Virgin Mary. Despite the considerable range in the period of composition, the Bruckner hymn dating back to 1861 while the pieces by Smith, Gjello, Whitacre, and Lauridsen are clearly contemporary compositions, there is a relative consistency in the musical language. This is unfailingly beautiful music that receives its due from the Schola Cantorum ensemble.
Similar to the recently reviewed 2L Blu-ray Song, the sonics are at the top. Working from a 352.8kHz/24-bit DXD master recording, the versions on this disc are 192kHz/24-bit resolution in either LPCM two-channel and 5.0 dts HD Master Audio formats. The 2L Blu-ray recordings give listeners the option of “Pure Audio” that eliminates the video display and further improves the sound. The recording venue, the Gamie Aker Church in Norway, appears to be quite resonant, and the multi-channel tracks provide the “live” cathedral echo. If your Blu-ray player is attached to a network you can download mp3 and FLAC versions to your computer.
A multi-channel/two-channel SACD of this program is included and sounds absolutely wonderful if not quite the equal of the Blu-ray Disc. The program booklet informs readers about the musical group as well as the selections in this concert. If this were not enough, there is a bonus video of the group reprising the Bruckner Ave Maria (my personal favorite selection) on location!
The Definitive Word
Hymn to the Virgin is one gorgeous choral recording that seems to be over too quickly. With fabulous singing and sound engineering, multi-channel listeners get the “you are there” impact of a live performance. Even if you are not a big fan of choral music, and I know that there are listeners out there who are not choral music fans, you owe it to yourself to experience this remarkable Blu-ray. You will not only enjoy it, but you might want to seek out more such discs.