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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



The Coming of Christ: A Celebration of Faith in His Nature
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911) - Offertoire sur l'hymne: Creator Alme Siderum.
Charles Marie WIDOR (1844-1937) Symphonie Gothique, 4th Movement (Allegro)
PLAINCHANT: Responsory: Aspiciens a longe; Rorate caeli desuper; Antiphon: O Emmanuel; Communion: Ecce Virgo; Antiphon: Missus est Gabriel; Antiphon: Ave Maria; Ne Timeas Maria; Dabit ei Dominus; Ecce ancilla Domini; Offertory: Ave Maria; Antiphon and Solemn Benedictus: Puer qui natus est; Invitatory: Christus natus est; Introit: Puer natus est nobis; Alleluia: Dies sanctificatus; Antiphon: Quem vidistis; Antiphon: Genuit puerpera; Antiphon: Angelus ad pastores; Antiphon: Facta est cum Angelo; Antiphon: Parvulus filius; Hymn: Christe Redemptor; Responsory: Verbum caro factum est; Antiphon and Solemn Magnificat: Hodie Christus natus est; Antiphon: Mirabile mysterium; Communion: Responsum; Antiphon: Lumen ad revelationem gentium; Gradual: Omnes de Saba venient; Communion: Vidimus stellam; Antiphon: Admoniti Magi; Antiphon: Herodes iratus; Communion: Tolle puerum; Antiphon: Ex Aegyto; Antiphon: Ibant parentes Jesu; Antiphon: Non invenientes; Antiphon: Fili quid fecisti; Antiphon: Descendit Jesus
James Jordan (organ)
David Chalmers (organ)
Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola/Dr. Mary Berry
Recorded September 2001 and April 2002, Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, Massachusetts.
GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD033 [66.04]


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I must confess that I have not always been enthusiastic about Gloriae Dei Cantores’ records in the past. Here, the Schola is directed by Dr. Mary Berry in a programme of plainchant themed around Christ's Nativity, much of the chant being from Advent and Christmas. On this recording, the sound engineers have managed to strike the right balance between clarity and sympathy. On previous recordings, the group have been recorded rather closely which bring big advantages in terms of clarity but means that the group is extremely exposed when it comes to lack of unanimity in the vocal line. On this recording, though clarity has been preserved, the choir are surrounded by a sympathetic acoustic which adds to their sound immeasurably. Under the direction of Dr. Mary Berry they produce a wonderfully focused and flexible sound.

The 16-person Schola, based in Massachusetts, sings both the daily Benedictine Offices and the Ordinary and Propers of the mass. This routine familiarity with chant is a great advantage and shows through in their commitment to all the music and the meaning of its text. This latter is important, as chant is nothing if it is not performed with that sensitivity.


Rather than doing a liturgical reconstruction, the group have assembled the chant based on narrative themes so the nativity story is brought forward through the chant. As on previous GDC records, the background to the chant in the booklet emphasises the text at the expense of the music. There is little in the way of musical background. The chant is sung in the modern manner. This is Gregorian chant for now rather than liturgical archaeology.

Rather strangely, the disc opens with some organ music, Guilmant's 'Offertoire sur L'Hymne: Creator Alme Siderum'. However admirably it is played by James Jordan, the music seems rather out of place and, curiously enough, the group do not perform 'Creator Alme Siderum'. Rather bravely, the first item of chant is the 9 minute reponsory from the night office of Matins, 'Aspiciens a longe', admirably sung by the women of the Schola. Generally, the items on the disc are sung alternately by the women and by the men. The role of Cantor is allocated in a similarly democratic fashion, though this does mean that not all of those singing have ideal voices.

'Aspiciens a longe' is followed by the Advent prose 'Rorate Coeli Desuper'; some of the most recent chant on the disc as it was written in the early 17th century. This is followed by the great Antiphon 'O Emmanuel' and the Communion 'Ecce Virgo', both of which echo the texts in 'Aspiciens a longe', which makes a fine piece of programming. Unfortunately, 'O Emmanuel' is performed without its accompanying Magnificat, which is a shame.

A sequence of five antiphons rather imaginatively tells the story of the Annunciation, and these are followed by a lovely, florid offertory chant 'Ave Maria'. The entire disc is imaginatively programmed in this manner, combining chants from various sources to provide well thought out narrative groups. In this manner we encounter the massacre of the Holy Innocents, Simeon and the Magi, finishing with four Antiphons describing Jesus's family. Most of the Antiphons are sung alone, but 'Puer qui natus' is sung with the Benedictus and the Magnificat Antiphon. 'Hodie Christus Natus est' is sung with the Magnificat.

The disc concludes with a final organ piece, this time the variations based on Puer Natus from Widor's 'Symphonie Gothique', which was premiered in 1895. However well played by David Chalmers, it too seems to sit rather strangely at the end of this lovely disc of chant.

It is instructive to compare the Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola with Pro Cantione Antiqua, who have issued a disc of Christmas chant on Brilliant Classics. A chant such as 'Lumen ad Revelationem Gentium' is common to both discs. Pro Cantione Antiqua are far steadier singing in a solid metrical manner. They make a lovely, rather comforting unified sound. But Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola, whose performance is a little faster, sing with a greater degree of flexibility. Their sheer vibrancy gives conviction to this lovely chant.

This is an imaginative solution to the problem of how to organise a programme of chant and under Dr. Mary Berry, Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola give fine performances resonating with conviction.

Robert Hugill

 



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