Incredibly, this is the tenth album from the group formed way back in 1996 by Dorothy Carter and Katharine Blake. There have been many changes over the years, not least the sad loss of Dorothy. She died in 2003 of an aneurysm. Others have come and gone from the ensemble over time too. The band is considered to be part of a medieval revival, and probably falls somewhere between classical and folk overall.
Prayers of the Rosary sees the Latin prayers of the rosary set to music founded in the plainsong tradition of the early Christian church. The songs were composed and arranged by Katharine and are set against a meditative backdrop of local field recordings, archaic and exotic instrumentation and other-worldly vocal textures. “Steeped in the ceremony and mysteries of the Catholic tradition, this album echoes the full spectrum of religious experience, from terror to transcendence, from the sinful to the celestial,” remarks Katharine. Curiously, this is the ensemble’s first release to feature all original tunes.
Perhaps the outstanding element on this release is how the excellent voices combine with the music. Katharine, while herself playing violin, recorders, percussion and glockenspiel, brought in a couple of outstanding multi-instrumentalists in Charlie Cawood, who proggers might know of through Knifeworld, providing zither, lyre, gothic lap harp, hammered dulcimer, pipa, daruan, guzheng, oud, bağlama saz, bouzouki whilst Michael J York brings in field recordings, bagpipes, tanpura, duduk, hurdy-gurdy, lyre, zither, church organ, double bass, whistle, hulusi, wine bottles, toy piano, percussion, clock chimes. There’s a plethora of textures and sounds deployable with these instruments, backed up as they are by fine performances from other instrumentalists. Prayers of the Rosary was recorded over the summer months of 2020, with Mediæval Bæbes past, present and future necessarily contributing remotely. In September, though they were fortuitously able to have a live recording session of a full choir, at Heath Street Baptist church in Hampstead, London.
The resulting music is a very refined listen. In the main it is quite contemplative, though there are more unsettling moments. It is the vocal performances that are to the fore, with the instrumentation providing a richly colourful backdrop. There is great atmosphere in this interplay almost like being in church while a medieval fayre is in flow in the market place nearby. It’s the use of this early, and these days unusual instrumentation, that occasionally gives the album a psychedelic-folk feel although it is coming up against a more straight-ahead classical world. Nothing appears to be forced or over the top, rather there’s something of a reflective ethereal mood about the album, which is excellently produced by Katharine. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the quality of this music, which is, in effect, quite sublime. “The Latin for the Rosary is Rosarium, which means ‘a garden of roses’. With that in mind, let this collection of meditative songs conjure for you a lyrical blossom of transcendent beauty – and a sacred space of tranquillity in these uncertain times” concludes Katharine.
Esther Dee, Giles Davies, Ruth Galloway, Polly Harley, Sophia Brumfitt,
Karen Kay, Rosa Marsh, Catherine Gerbrands, Maria Moraru
Katharine Blake: violin, recorders, percussion, glockenspiel
Charlie Cawood: zither, lyre, gothic lap harp, hammered dulcimer, pipa, daruan, guzheng, oud, bağlama saz, bouzouki
Michael J York: field recordings, bagpipes, tanpura, duduk, hurdy-gurdy, lyre, zither, church organ, double bass, whistle, hulusi, wine bottles, toy piano, percussion, clock chimes
Robin Blick: French horn
Catherine Gerbrands: musical saw, bowed glass
Kavus Torabi: Indian harmonium, santoor
Tim Bowen: cello
Released: 4th December 2020
Label: Bellisima Records