> Gregorian Chant from Canterbury Cathedral METCD1003 [PWe]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Gregorian Chant from Canterbury Cathedral
For the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury

Mass for the Feast of St Thomas of Canterbury

Introit         Gaudeamus omnes
Kyrie         Fons bonitatis
Gloria         Gloria in Excelsis
Gradual         Posuisti Domine
Alleluia         Gloria in honore
Sequence         Solemne canticum
Credo         Credo in unum deum
Offertory         Posuisti Domine
Sanctus        Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus
Agnus         Agnus dei
Communion         Magna est Gloria
Ite         Fons bonitatis
St Dunstans Kyrie Rex Splendens
The Office of Matins for St Thomas of Canterbury
Invitatory         Assunt Thomae Martyis (Psalm 94)
Hymn         Matir Dei
Responsory I         Studens libor Thome
Responsory III         Lapisiste
Responsory VII  Mundi florem
Responsory IX         Ferro Presos
Responsory XII  Jesu Bone
Antiphon         Strictus Thomas (Psalm 20)
Antiphon         Sol inclinans (Psalm 64)
David Flood, Master of the Choristers
The Lay Clerks of Canterbury Cathedral
Recordings made in the Trinity Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral; 22-24 March 1994
Metronome MET CD 1003-01 [74.00]


Experience Classicsonline

Seventy-four minutes of Gregorian chant is not going to be to the taste of everyone. And yet, there is a strange, hypnotic fascination to the endless flow of monody, and the images of the cloistered activities of monks centuries ago, that this ancient music brings to mind. What this disc presents is the same ancient music, performed by the descendants of those mediaeval monks in our own country. The chants for the Mass, and the Office of Matins for St Thomas of Canterbury are taken from the Sarum rite - the liturgical format developed at Salisbury Cathedral, which became the, more-or-less, standard sung formula throughout the middle ages in England. St Thomas of Canterbury is, of course, England’s most important home-grown Saint, and therefore has a special resonance to the place of Canterbury. The performers here are the Lay Clerks of Canterbury Cathedral - the professional men of the cathedral choir; since the reformation, when many Cathedrals lost their dual roles as monasteries, the musical tradition has been upheld by such Lay Clerks, who continue to sing daily in the Cathedrals, much as their predecessor monks did, if somewhat fewer times in the day. The recording location, the Trinity Chapel in the cathedral, is also full of historic resonance, being the site of St Thomas’ shrine, also lost at the reformation, but still the spiritual and architectural culmination of Canterbury Cathedral.

All of these things add up to make this disc a document of some interest in this secular age. Here is the most tangible of musical links stretching back 1000 years, and taken in this way the disc becomes much more than just another 74 minutes of Gregorian chant. Excellent booklet notes by Mary Berry, the significant authority on this repertoire, explain clearly the structure of the services recorded and the significance of the various chants and tones employed. Listening to the chants in their context as part of complete services, be it the Mass with propers, or the Office of Matins, adds to the sense of continuity in the performances. The way the chants are handled is always a touchy area, for there are almost as many ways of singing chant as there are people who sing it. This writer feels that the reciting passages (many words on a single note) are too stolid, with emphasis given evenly to each successive syllable, and that this format is rather old-fashioned. Others may disagree, and the "authenticity" of the style is hard to dispute when one is dealing with an ensemble so intimately linked to the origins of the music. That having been said, these chants of the ancient Catholic church are not used much in the context of today’s Anglican services, and a freer, more recitatory style would reflect current thinking about Gregorian chant rather more closely, as well as providing more variety of timbre, as happens in some of the melismatic chants in the Matins service.

The other problem that this disc has is the quality of the recorded sound. The choice of the Trinity Chapel is evocative certainly, but it is not so good acoustically, and there is little reason to believe that these chants would ever have been sung in the chapel. The Quire of the cathedral is the natural place for this repertoire and it would possibly have been a wiser recording venue. In the small space of the Trinity Chapel the microphone placings are, of necessity, close and this destroys the feel of the vast spaciousness of the cathedral that sets off Gregorian Chant so well. Additionally, it allows a lot of breathing noise between the phrases to be audible, and results in the blend of the singers being reduced. Overall there is a considerable amount of ‘dead noise’ in the recordings. These aspects are unfortunate as, those small reservations mentioned above notwithstanding, the quality of the singing is good. A more ambient acoustic would certainly have done no harm. A fascinating disc well worth having, if only for very late at night.

Peter Wells


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