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GREGORIAN CHANT
1. Gradual "Beata gens"
2. Introit "Loquebar"
3. Gradual "Adjuvabit"
4. Gradual "Dirigatur"
5. Gradual "Laetatus sum"
6. Introit "Puer natus est"
7. Gradual "Audi filia"
8. Communion "Vox in Rama"
9. Alleluia "De Profundis"
10. Introit "Circumdederunt"
11. Gradual "Christus factus est"
12. Trait "Cantemus Domino"
13. Alleluia "Dominus in Sina"
14. Alleluia "Candor est lucis"
15. Repons "Collegerunt"
16. Alleluia "Omnes Gentes"
17. Trait "Confitemini"
18. Communion "Videns Dominus"
19. Alleluia "Dies sanctificatus"
20. Offertory "Afferentur"
21. Introit "Exsurge"
22. Communion "Panis"
23. Communion "Passer inveit"
Abbé Damien Poisblaud
Recordings made in The Abbey of Thoronet (date of recording unspecified)
PAVANE ADW 7239 [64.53]

 

Experience Classicsonline

This reviewer would never have expected to find himself in a position of saying that one of the most remarkable recordings heard in years was a disc of one man singing unaccompanied chant for over an hour. But, so it is. This disc upset every preconception this writer has ever entertained about Gregorian chant. Many listeners may think that they know what Gregorian chant sounds like. Fair enough, but - believe it - you don’t!

This recording is the sort of disc for which the ‘early music movement’ was invented. It is much more than just a recording of some music, however fine or historic. The preconceptions that we all entertain about Gregorian Chant (for anybody over 30, probably based on the chosen listening of the dreadfully dull husband played by Geoffrey Palmer in the 1970s BBCTV sitcom "Butterflies") do not necessarily allow us to consider this repertoire as virtuoso music of incredible breadth and power. The soloist on this disc, Abbé Damien Poisblaud, uses the booklet note to outline a convincing argument for the necessity to rethink the way we perceive chant and its performance. His well structured and lucid notes revolve around the principal concepts that chant is part of a continuous oral tradition and that the performance of such unaccompanied music would normally have been undertaken in ‘just intonation’ i.e. pure tuning of intervals such as the fourth and fifth, which can sound strange to modern ears used to ‘equal temperament’. He has also carried out much research into the nature of early vowel pronunciations. As it is vowels that give singing its distinctive colour, this also is something that modern ears are not used to hearing. His other main premise is that this music was not designed to be sung by a choir of monks, but by highly skilled solo singers, using embellishment and improvisation techniques to enliven and enlighten the performance. Much of this research was based on surviving oral traditions from the Mediterranean region and then applied to the early sources of chant.

The end result of all this is a recording that comes as a revelation. Certainly the sound is unfamiliar, in places it is even bordering on the unattractive, and yet all the time there is a hard-to-shake-off feeling that this is very probably ‘how it was’. It takes a little time to get used to the sound, the tuning and the acoustic - more time than the samples here allow - but after a few tracks it all seems to make perfect sense. It seems ‘natural’ and that is the hardest thing to achieve in the false atmosphere of a recording.

The performances could have fallen into the merely ‘interesting’ category if they were not so convincingly brought across by the recording itself. It is interesting to note that the CD cover mentions the name of the venue in larger letters than that of the performer. This is justified. The acoustic of the Abbey of Thoronet is the single aspect that convinces this writer most about the premise advanced. The sheer beauty of the sound that results from singing into such an astonishing acoustic seems so ‘right’ for the music. That the engineers should have been able to capture the clarity of the performance and the splendour of the acoustic without compromising either is a sure credit to them. This is a rarely exceptional recording, which is most highly recommended.

Peter Wells

 



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