Recording of the Week,
Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble
Officium, the bestselling collaboration between Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the British vocal quartet The Hilliard Ensemble, was something of a game changer when it was released in 1994. Recorded at the monastery of Propstei St. Gerold in Austria, it featured a mix of plainsong and early medieval polyphony sung by the Hilliard Ensemble over which Jan Garbarek improvised his unique soprano lines. The recording venue was almost as important as the artists themselves, with the acoustics offering the musicians space as their sounds decay, adding to the atmosphere of the album. Whilst there had been plenty of ‘crossover’ projects recorded in the past, something about the collaboration struck home as authentic (the fact that it was on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label also added to its caché) and it went on to sell over 1.5 million copies. This was followed up by two further collaborations, although it was that original project that struck home the deepest for this listener. Now, twenty-five years later ECM has released Remember Me, My Dear, a recording made at Chiesa della Collegiata dei Santi Pietro e Stefano, Bellinzona, Switzerland in 2014, during the Hilliard Ensemble's final tour before disbanding, ending their thirty-year run.
Once again the ECM engineers have done a tremendous job making this a great deep listening experience. The group offer a varied programme of music, taking in some of the usual early music touchstones such as Perotin, Hildegard von Bingen and some chap called ‘Anonymous’ (joke) alongside Arvo Pärt and a piece by Jan Garbarek himself. Garbarek sounds restrained on stretches of the record, possibly out of deference to it being the group’s final tour. There is also more focus on simpler folk song material, such as the wonderful title track, and a paring down to the essence of the music. There are plenty of magisterial Garbarek moments though, like on Perotin’s Alleluia, Nativitas, where his sax shoots out bold colours across the calm waters that the Hilliard have established.
Many of us fondly recall the Hilliard Ensemble’s brilliant Arvo Pärt recordings for ECM from the mid-eighties, how we drew some kind of consolation from Passio in troubled times, even for us heathens. If anything, the need for reflection is even more pressing in 2019, and Remember Me, My Dear is a fine tool to help towards that end.