Hearing or performing music comes closest in the range of human activity to a visceral connection to the past. As long as we have notation and knowledge of how to interpret it, we can effectively experience something like our ancestors did when they sang the same music. Of course, our 20th-century sensibilities and knowledge–or lack thereof–prevent us from sharing identical responses, but as with the music on this disc, when we hear it we are in some way transported to another place. We know a completely different sound world from our own; we know that the accepted order of certain things was different. And we also know that in many ways people haven't changed. Machaut's music conveys a spirituality–both joyful and contemplative–that's as true in its impact as it must have been 600 years ago, a point made ever so clearly by these especially vibrant and vital performances.
The Nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, from a remote region of France near Avignon, won a worldwide search to find the world's finest female singers of Gregorian Chant. The search took in over 70 convents, including communities as far afield as North America and Africa. The Nuns' album will feature the most ancient form of Gregorian Chant, which the sisters sing eight times a day, and was the first music ever to be written down. The nuns’ album, Voices – Chant from Avignon, was intended for release before the Pope’s visit to Britain in September, but will now be released in November.
For those of us who grew up on Janet Baker's recordings (and were lucky enough to hear her "live" as well), the sound of her voice and her singular artstic personality - British restraint coupled with fierce emotional and spiritual commitment - are indelibly imprinted in our minds and hearts. The closest current equivalent is Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, another superb artist who has charted her own course, and not surprisingly there is some overlap of repertoire, in the music of J.S. Bach, of course, but also Berlioz's Didon and Beatrice, Handel's Ariodante and Britten's Phaedra (composed for Baker).