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Otfrid Von Weissenburg: Liber Evangelorium / Rombach, Et Al

Weissenberg / Ensemble Officium / Rombach
Release Date: 11/28/2006 
Label:  Christophorus   Catalog #: 77279   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Otfrid von WeissenburgAnonymousTraditional
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is something special and should be snapped up by all lovers of ancient music and literature. The ‘Liber Evangeliorum’ was written around 870 CE. It’s considered one of the greatest works of the Carolingian ‘renaissance’ - that ninth century revival in cultural and intellectual activity in the Europe of Charlemagne. The work of Otfrid, a monk at Weißenburg Abbey in Alsace, it contains more than 7,000 verses ‘translating’ the gospel into the Old High German Franconian dialect. That it survives at all is highly unusual: vernacular text was rarely recorded.

The extant Heidelberg manuscript copy - which may be an original from St Gallen - from which this edition was prepared is in neumes: notation inflexions indicating
Read more musical forms in use before the five-line stave. This strongly suggests or indeed proves outright that these texts were sung, chanted and were likely to have been used in the liturgy. Clearly the actual performing practices - though ‘performance’ in the sense we understand it is hardly the right word here - and the mechanics of the reconstruction are speculative; neumes didn’t necessarily indicate note values or rhythms. Yet what we hear on this CD has a wholeness to it and works extremely well as a committed amalgam of liturgy in context, and simply splendid music.

Wilfried Rombach, Ensemble Officium’s director, has attempted a reconstruction of those passages in the ‘Liber Evangeliorum’ for Advent and Christmas. They bring us nearly two dozen spell-binding and utterly wonderful items: spoken readings placed in the liturgical context of nocturnes or night prayers in the Abbey followed by contemporary responsaries (Gregorian chant) taken from the St Gallen manuscript. The Abbey had strong intellectual and clerical connections with Weißenburg, or Wissembourg in French.

This is beautiful music, beautifully and sensitively sung. Ethereal and remote yet without gloss, artifice or self-reverence. It’s highly sanctified, lucid and about as far from the percussive syncopation of modern living as you can get. Ensemble Officium was founded in 1999 - a dozen or so reciters, instrumentalists and vocal soloists – already with some significant prizes to their credit. They have captured the atmosphere in which the work originated. Unhurried, thoughtful and transparent articulation pay off throughout. To them the music has nothing to ‘prove’. It just is and their job in the present century is to reveal it and expose the dedication and sonorous beauty which went into its composition twelve hundred years ago.

The balance between spoken recitation, solo chant, ensemble singing and instruments – and sometimes a pleasant combination of these – works beautifully. There is variety, stimulation, anticipation and ultimately immense satisfaction. These forces have also managed to absorb – and thence convey to the open-eared listener – the architecture and form of the selection. There’s a certain inevitability to the sound here that’s intentionally eschewed in, say, the chant of the Notre-Dame school of 300 years later, music of the closest in time familiar to many listeners.

The well-written and informative CD booklet gives ample background to the ‘Liber Evangeliorum’. How the language in which Otfrid worked, for example, made efforts to combine the alliterative metricality of Old High German with Latin end rhyming. It contains all the OHG and Latin texts - with modern German only translations; twelve pages in total.

Rombach has used three fidels - one of the earliest mediaeval bowed instruments; violin family: hence ‘fiddle’ - to accompany some of the singing, which includes women’s voices. If not Perotin and Leonin, the closest in style for many new to this music might well be Hildegard, recordings of whose bright and pure music sometimes accentuate the ‘ecstatic’. The way the ‘Liber Evangeliorum’ is offered to us in this recording is calmer and unself-conscious. It is nonetheless entrancing thanks to careful adherence by Ensemble Officium to the inner confidence of the Otfrid’s work.

So this is both more austere music and at the same time every bit as profound and affecting at a very deep emotional level as other chant and song from the early mediaeval period. This recreation will not be ‘definitive’. How could it be? But it works. It conveys the power of the music and stands in its own right as a lovely creation to return to time and again.

Otfrid’s exhortation, “Strive with the utmost zeal … to make it sound beautiful” - in fact he was referring to the Franconian language whose cause the ‘Liber Evangeliorum’ was also written to advance - has been heeded. Don’t hesitate to buy this landmark CD.

-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Invocatio Wola drúhtin mín - Invocation scriptor by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 1 Minutes 30 Secs. 
2.
Praeoccupemus faciem Domini, invitatorium by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 9 Minutes 18 Secs. 
3.
Vox clara ecce intonat, hymn by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 3 Secs. 
4.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Lectio I This sint búah frono. Liber generationi by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 3 Minutes 0 Secs. 
5.
Aspiciens a longe, responsory by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 7 Minutes 30 Secs. 
6.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Lectio II Ward áfter thiu irscrítan sár. Missus by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 50 Secs. 
7.
Sancta et immaculata virginitas, responsory by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 33 Secs. 
8.
Suscipe verbum Virgo Maria, responsory by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 49 Secs. 
9.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Lectio III Fűar tho sancta Mária. Exurgens autem by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 3 Minutes 36 Secs. 
10.
Beatam me dicent omnes generationes, communio by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 29 Secs. 
11.
Ecce apparebit Dominus, responsory (Vigil for the third day of Advent) by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 42 Secs. 
12.
Veni redemptor gentium, hymn (for Advent) by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 3 Minutes 10 Secs. 
13.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Lectio IV Wúntar ward tho máraz. Exiit edictum a by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 1 Minutes 41 Secs. 
14.
O magnum mysterium, Christmas responsory by Traditional
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Renaissance 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 3 Minutes 29 Secs. 
15.
Beata Dei genitrix, responsory in mode 7 (Liber Usualis No. 383) by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 5 Secs. 
16.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Lectio V Tho wárun thar in lánte. Et pastores er by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 16 Secs. 
17.
Hodie nobis caelorum rex, responsory by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 3 Minutes 40 Secs. 
18.
Verbum caro factum est, responsory in mode 8 (Liber Usualis No. 390) by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 4 Minutes 48 Secs. 
19.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Lectio VI Thar was ein mán alter. De obviatione by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 14 Secs. 
20.
Adorna thalamum tuum, processional chant in mode 6 by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Europe 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 4 Minutes 48 Secs. 
21.
Liber evangeliorum, for reciter, chorus & ensemble: Oratio Giwérdo uns geban drúhtin. Oratio (lib.V, by Otfrid von Weissenburg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 2 Minutes 58 Secs. 
22.
Alma Redemptoris Mater, antiphon by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Officium
Period: Medieval 
Written: Germany 
Venue:  Ev. Kirche Gönningen 
Length: 1 Minutes 53 Secs. 

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