Review: Vision, The Telling, Buxton Festival Fringe

Vision: The Imagined Testimony of Hildegard von Bingen, The Telling, St John’s Church, Buxton

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is one of the earliest known European composers and despite all the scholarly research there must be an element of guesswork when it comes to performing the music 1000 years later. Quite how ornate or decorative the vocal lines should be, for example, we cannot be sure. Given the highly decorated medieval manuscripts that have survived we might feel entitled to suppose that the singing and music have similar flourishes.

Certainly The Telling in their singing bring plenty of expression – vocal and physical to the performance. Clare Norburn (soprano) wrote the text for the Hildegard’s testimony and was joined by Adrianne Prussner (mezzo) and Joy Smith (harp) in a performance of quiet serenity. The singers moved around the Church, sometimes singing solo, sometimes together, creating different patterns.

Jan Chappell took the role of Hildegard. She didn’t use a microphone and whilst the acoustic of the Church suited the singers very well it did the actor no favours. It is likely that many in the audience struggled to catch the entire text.

That said the story we were told about Hildegard was not as interesting or revealing as it might have been. From a very early age she experienced visions and knew she had to serve God. She missed her family and contact with the outside world but her duty was to serve and she was fortunate to have the friendship of Jutta. Hildegard went on to found two monasteries, overcoming opposition in the first instance.

Hildegard lived a long and creative life and whilst it would be foolish to attempt to degrade the spiritual part of her life her writings on scientific and medical issues remain fascinating for many today.

The Telling are always well worth listening to and searching out and the music of St Hildegard was well served in this production.

Keith Savage