“Filia Sion” is the first ECM New Series disc devoted entirely to the Estonian vocal group Vox Clamantis. From the beginning of its history, Vox Clamantis has focussed on Gregorian chant as the foundation of European music, but has also maintained strong connections to contemporary composers including Arvo Pärt, Helena Tulve and Erkki-Sven Tüür (members of the ensemble previously appeared on Tüür’s “Oxymoron” album, singing his composition “Salve Regina”). Their interpretation of medieval music is never purely historical. While always remaining true to the spirit of this repertoire, the approach to the work and the selection of pieces is contemporary, with sound and texture and the blending of voices as a focus.
As leader Jaan-Eik Tulve explains, “Gregorian chant is monophonic music which remarkably emphasizes the blend of voices. Working on sound and colour of voices has been one of the constant priorities of our ensemble.” This emphasis is the thread that connects its repertoire through the centuries: “I started with Gregorian chant and later moved on to the contemporary music for multiple reasons: firstly, my personal interest in certain contemporary music that draws attention to the sound and is centred on the horizontal musical phrase and melody in its deeper sense. On the other hand, our ensemble has been lucky and several Estonian composers have composed pieces for us, as they have appreciated our approach to the sound, phrase and to the entire musical expression…”
On the present album, drawing upon the rich tradition in music history on the theme of “Filia Sion”, Vox Clamantis sings medieval music from Gregorian chant to works by Perotin, Hildegard von Bingen and Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz. In the Old Testament, “Filia Sion” – the Daughter of Zion – refers to both the holy city of Jerusalem and the Jewish people who built the Temple on Mount Zion. In medieval Christian tradition, Holy Mary became the incarnation of the Daughter of Zion as the personification of the church.
Jaan-Eik Tulve: “The repertoire for the CD emerged naturally from our concert activity. We are specially focussing on the theme of Virgin Mary, who is for me personally a very important figure, who is equally honoured in medieval music. We have had different collaborations with various musicians from a number of traditions. The last piece on the CD – ‘Ma Navu’ – derives from a program around Jewish traditional music. Most of our arrangements are born in the rehearsals while improvising. For instance, when a couple of our singers started to explore overtone-singing, we tried to incorporate it into our repertoire and the pedal-notes in Perotin, on this recording, seemed for us an appropriate use.”
From the liner notes by Klára Jirsová: “The Gospels do not reveal all of Mary’s feelings to us; the mystery of the Incarnation is only briefly presented. Relying on a few phrases and returning endlessly to the sacred words and setting them in different contexts, the musical tradition shows their inexhaustible richness. Medieval compositions meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation in all its aspects. They display different shades of joy: explosive, superabundant joy which wells up like a source, as well as the shimmer of peaceful, meditative wonder before ‘the miracle never seen, the joy never known’”.
“Filia Sion” was recorded in the Dome Church of St Nicholas, Haapsalu, with Helena Tulve as recording supervisor.