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Classical new releases: Choral music old and new

Two new classical releases highlight performances of some of the oldest and newest choral music.

Hildegard von Bingen composed her "Ordo virtutum" in the first half of the 12th century. It is the only music drama from the medieval period whose composer's name is known to historians.

The vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire has just released a new album featuring a complete performance of Hildegard's "Ordo virtutum."

This morality play is over an hour long, and Hildegard composed it for the nuns in her convent to sing. There is one part for a male voice, the role of the Devil, which was likely written for the priest who served Hildegard's convent.

The music is for solo and unison women's voices, but because Hildegard composed for the specific nuns in her convent, the music ranges from very high to very low and from very easy to very difficult.

The album's liner notes were written by Honey Meconi, Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music and one of the leading scholars on the life and music of Hildegard of Bingen.

At the other end of the chronological spectrum, the ensemble Cantus features almost all world premieres on their new album "Manifesto."

The majority of the works on "Manifesto" were written specifically for Cantus, in response to their request for new music for tenors, baritones, and basses to sing.

Not only are the pieces new, but many of them deal with uniquely 21st-century topics.

Joseph Gregorio's "To My Brother" is a setting of text from a letter that James Clementi wrote to his brother Tyler; Tyler died by suicide after his roommate exposed Tyler's sexual orientation on social media. Timothy Takach's "Luceat Eis" was written to commemorate service members who died on 9/11, while the text of David Lang's "Manifesto" comes from a Google auto-complete list that starts, "I want to be with someone who..."

The Cantus album was first released by the group in 2016, but this is a new release on the Signum label.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.