Wishful Singing (& Herman Finkers): In Mysterium
After singing together in the Netherlands Youth Choir, sopranos Anne-Christine Wemekamp and Maria Goetze, mezzo-soprano Marjolein Verburg, and altos Marjolein Stots and Annemiek van der Ven decided to continue their partnership under the Wishful Singing name and share their love for female a cappella singing with audiences in Holland, Japan, China, Germany, Spain, Estonia, Italy, England, and the USA. Though the focus of In Mysterium is Gregorian chant, the vocal ensemble's expansive repertoire extends from the Renaissance and Baroque eras to folk music, popular songs, and commissioned material.
Gregorian chant is generally associated with male voices, the image coming to mind of monasteries from centuries past and deep-throated expressions by singers adorned in long robes. In its clarity and intonation, Wishful Singing's presentation feels angelic and ethereal by comparison, less tethered to the earth in its inhabiting of a higher sphere, and the purity of the group's pristine voices conveys peace and tranquility. If anything, the aspirational upward movement that goes hand in hand with Gregorian chant feels naturally suited to the timbre of these female voices.
Included in the release's booklet are detailed commentaries by Jerry Korsmit and Herman Finkers, who together selected the music for the release. Their involvement didn't end there: Korsmit also helped Wishful Singing prepare for the recording of the CD during the rehearsal process, whereas Finkers originally worked with the group on a production that was then called Missa in Mysterium and which upon its broadcast on Dutch television engendered such a response that the decision was made to record it, In Mysterium the result (credited with Shruti box and, on one track, declamation, Finkers also performs on the recording). Their commentaries, Korsmit's in particular, offer valuable insight into the Gregorian form. It's noted, for example, that while these ecclesiastical chants from the Middle Ages are unison in character, sung in Latin (the text for the chants helpfully displayed in the booklet in Latin, English, and Dutch), and free of a fixed metre, they're also more heterogeneous than might be expected, with differences in form and melody evident upon close inspection.
For In Mysterium, Korsmit and Finkers chose settings that constitute a celebration of the Mass as it would have looked in the late Middle Ages along with a number of chants from the ecclesiastical night liturgy. Korsmit also notes that the oldest chants featured on the release stem from the middle of the eighth century of the Common Era and that almost all the texts of the chants for the Mass derive from Holy Scripture, the majority from the Book of Psalms. The background he shares about individual tracks proves insightful, too: by way of illustration, he identifies “Diastematica vocis armonica,” whose text refers to the joy of making music and the joy felt at Easter, as an example of the Conductus genre and thus a chant sung at moments when there would otherwise be silence, such as during the moments when a priest moves from one place to another.
Wishful Singing's renderings are lovely, regardless of whether the singers' graceful intonations are heard alone or together. A striking instance of the latter emerges during “Kyrie fons bonitatis” in the alternation between the group's unison delivery and the two-part singing that stands in marked contrast to it. As arresting are the melodic elaborations on a single syllable that see the ‘e' in ‘Kyrie' and the final ‘a' in ‘alleluia' stretching gloriously across long undulating lines, an effect pushed to an even greater extreme by two singers during “Recordare mei.”A hint of Byzantine flavour surfaces within “Ponis nubem,” and the drone-like character exemplified by some settings (e.g., “Ecce quam bonum”) is reinforced by the inclusion of Finkers' Shruti box; “Lectio libri Cantici Canticorum” can't help but stand out when his speaking voice is juxtaposed with the much higher-pitched melodies of the female voices. All such differences aside, the recording establishes a clear sense of cohesiveness and uniformity, especially when its sixteen settings, hymnal and serene in character, engage the listener so powerfully.